Today, I’ll be participating in the Out of the Darkness walk for suicide awareness, prevention, and support hosted by the AFSP (American Foundation for Suicide Prevention), along with a small group of friends from my local sangha Be Here Now.
Today: I walk for my friend Sean. I walk for my friend Scott. I walk for my childhood friend Mitch. Three young men who died by suicide. I walk for all those who are struggling. I walk for those who cannot. And I will walk with love in my heart for all of them, knowing full well that we are all in this thing together.
I started getting involved in awareness and advocacy work around the topic of suicide the same way most of us get involved with anything: personal experience. Most of us don’t choose at random what topics to get more involved in, they choose us.
During the course of one summer a few years ago, I had three friends, all female and all part of our local sangha, spend time in the neurobehavioral unit here in town. Each were placed there by health care professionals, for varying lengths of time. After that, the topic of suicide started appearing more in people’s sharings during our sangha on Monday nights. The power of sharing circles at sangha never ceases to inspire me. When one person can open up and be vulnerable, it gives others permission to do the same. And once the door is open, it cannot be closed.
There are more people than seats or room in this bar, downtown on a Thursday night, and I wonder who chose this subpar venue for such an important event.
We’re sectioned off from the may-lay of intoxication, still, this bar floor squinting under florescent lighting has seen its share of misery – just like those whose feet grace its linoleum facade. Perhaps it’s this commonality that binds us to this location, verses some more comfortable, more spacious, less seedy place.
This Me Too reading is an ovary fest. Still, speaking to the choir has its merits. Empowering others out of the darkness of their shame to join the chorus of Enough! is perhaps the only way to burn this whole thing down.
Strange as it sounds, I feel rather like an intruder. Perhaps this is why there are not more men here. I have no voice of experience to lend to this particular chorus of women. But I put great stock in learning, knowing, and understanding the systemic issues that plague our collective consciousness, so here I am.
And so maybe this sticky saloon isn’t the worst place for this dialog to ensue. Maybe this hotbed of back alley lusting for something profoundly missing is right where we need to be. A place to match the darkness of this topic and meet it face-to-weathered-face.
As Harrison said in a poem: there is a place in us to weep for others. So maybe this is it.
Lately, I’ve been thinking about what the foundational elements of my life are, as a lay practitioner in the Plum Village Buddhist tradition. A while back, I watched a Dharma talk online from a monastic Sister where she spoke of the founding principles of monastic life at the monasteries in our tradition and I think, if I remember right, what I’ve landed on is similar to what she shared.
I’ve identified four elements – and to be clear, theses are ones I’ve simply recognized are true and in play for myself personally, this is not any sort of official list adopted by anyone other than myself.
Nicole’s Four Foundational Elements of Lay Practice Life
- Practice (includes Dharma study)
- Play (includes music/art/creative expression)
For me, it’s helpful to understand clearly what my foundational elements are as a lay practitioner so that I know what my priorities are and in what direction I want to be spending my time and limited energy. Life is about balance. And for me it’s about balancing these four elements, often on a daily basis.
This past weekend, we had our first ever Montana Open Way Sanghas leadership and OI retreat (OI = order of interbeing, in the Plum Village Buddhist tradition). We also tried out a new retreat facility in Great Falls, Montana: the large and lovely Urseline Center, built in 1912.
Catholic in practice, the Urseline Center welcomes a variety of groups and programs into its space. We were very well taken care of. And what a treat to be surrounded by such history and craftsmanship. It was a treat to stay there and incredibly well-taken care of.
Here are a couple of things I penned in my journal early Saturday morning:
The quality of silence inside this elder building, is a sound I dearly savor and admire. Still, at 4:50am, a songbird’s morning trill penetrates the thick walls of brick and stone and reached with grace my countenance. Every bit of this place has been touched by someone’s faith or expression of God. And we, who dwell here for just a short sliver of time, are the ultimate and shining example.
If you listen carefully,
with full attention and full presence
and full breath,
the harmonious choir of religious views
can be heard, resounding
in the hearts of the people.
I walked slow, steady, and singing
around the pews of a 1912 Chapel.
In the third row,
I folded down the padded kneeling bench,
kneeled and joined my palms.
I connected with the church of my youth
I prayed to an energy
I neither understand or personally resonate
yet still find great and lovely movement in,
through those seeking guidance
on how to live well, with great kindness.
It was here, on my knees,
that I heard the ancient sound:
the harmonizing choir of all religious views,
lending their voices together
I have mixed feelings about Valentine’s Day. For me, V-Day is on par with Santa Claus at Christmas. I mean, part of me gets the whimsy of it but a bigger part of me is all like: Really?! THIS is what the group consensus came up with?
When holidays have the great potential to plummet a fair amount of our brethren into the pits of despair, based on the hype that gets generated around them and the unrealistic notions hitched to their giddy-up, I’d say something is in serious need of cultural repair.
I recently attended a presentation on the University of Montana (UM) campus for Mental Health Awareness Week and learned that 71% of UM students report feeling “very lonely” and 64% report feeling “very sad.” Loneliness is affecting the masses. I’ve got nothing against those who are super into celebrating V-Day on their own accord and feel called to set aside a day to connect with their romantic partner – I think that’s great, truly. My problem lies in the expectations we’ve orchestrated around V-Day; the pressure to be in love or have some grand lusty time; the hype and the heart-shaped everything; and the fact that in large part V-Day is a female heavy holiday and it’s the guy who’s supposed to dote on the special gal in his life and not the other way around. Females in particular are dangerously caught up in fictitious ideas of what it means to be in love and what our partners should and shouldn’t do to continuously prove to us how much they adore us. V-Day keeps in motion a slew of not-so-great to super-unhealthy views and notions centered around romantic relationships, sex, love, desire, and connection. And V-Day makes a lot of people feel even lonelier.
Like the pic I took above, from a book I came across in Powell’s Books while visiting Portland last weekend, says: What if this were enough? What if whatever we have going on right now we regarded as being enough? Enough to be content, to be happy, to be at ease in the world of heart-shaped everything on V-Day.
What if we were able to invoke the message of the 7th of the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings: Dwelling Happily in the Present Moment?
Perched in our kitchen is this magnet board that Mike and I made when we did our renovation a couple of years ago. It was our creative solution for covering over the large electrical panel that resides front and center on that section of open wall space.
During the holiday season, it turns delightfully into a posting board of love, as it becomes decorated with the cards sent and given to us by our friends & family.
It used to be that my dis-ease with the waste of paper resources outweighed my enjoyment of receiving holidays cards – but thankfully the tides have shifted and I’ve come to understand the great importance of these paper forms of connection and care.
And this year it even prompted me to grow our magnet stash :)