Four Elements of Lay Life

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

  1. Practice (includes Dharma study)
  2. Work
  3. Rest
  4. 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.

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Birthday Day

Soft rain falling at 5:30am.
40-years ago today I was born,
head first into an air and water world
that agreed without being asked –
without question –
to take me on,
for however long:
40, 50, 70, 90 years.

Who knows?
No one.
No matter.

This day is really all that matters.
Just like when tomorrow comes,
that day will be all that matters.

This day, with its arm extended and hand open
in everyone’s direction, all at once,
ready to guide us, one soft step at a time,
along whatever path we’re traveling.
Ready to go neck deep into the throngs of the urban jungle, hand-in-hand, if we so choose.

Ready to love a little more with us; sing the duet of sorrow with us; drop to its knees in prayer with us.

Ready to keep up with us in good company.

Ready to take us on.

Montana Open Way Sanghas Leadership Retreat

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.

This morning,
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
and prayed.

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
in symphony.

 

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On V-Day

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?

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Paper Forms of Connection

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 :)

Into the Woods


On the trail to Jerry Johnson Hot Springs, Idaho. Dec 25th, 2018

 

Yesterday, while Mike and I were hiking through the woods amid the winter wonderland-scape en route to Jerry Johnson Hot Springs, we were trying to figure out how many years we’ve been upholding the tradition of hot springing on Christmas Day. The best we could figure is that it’s been around 10 years.

Here’s to having lovely holiday traditions that allow our hearts to crack open just a little bit more with every passing.

I’ve walked these woods
10,000 times,
carried them with me
through every turning of day
and maturation of thought

I’ve made use of their good tidings
as cordage to anchor me home

and when storms have raged,
as they have tendency to do,
I’ve held firm to their wisdom
of  resiliency and strength,
so that I may learn
when to sway
and when to shed

 

P.S

I made a 6-minute video montage of our excursion yesterday – here it is! (And it’s set to my newest favorite song: Trevor Hall’s You Can’t Rush Your Healing.)

 

 

Three Roads Converge

When I clacked in the title of this post: Three Roads Converge, I thought I’d tie in three threads that have been thrumming through my life as of late. But then as I started thinking more about it, I realized that it’s more like 5 of 6 threads that have woven themselves together in the past week, prompting my call to pen this post.

On Monday, I had a meeting with an OI (Order of Interbeing) pre-aspirant friend of mine, where we decided to start a practice of working closely with the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings together, which serve as the foundation of our Buddhist tradition. I shared with her that prior to my having been ordained into the Order – back in 2007 – I took it upon myself to work with each one of the trainings for the span of one-week. I read one training every day for 7 days and then would go onto the next one, equating to a 14-week practice. After reading each training, I would then journal about my thoughts/practice/experience with the training. This practice was very nourishing for me and allowed me the opportunity to look and work deeply with each training, one at a time.

Since she liked this idea and was interested in doing it, I extended the offer of having her and I do it together. Our plan is to focus on one training every 2-weeks, so that when next we meet, which will be once a month, we’ll share with each other our journal entries and what came up for us, centered around two of the trainings.

Since this was week #1, here’s the first of the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings that I’ve been working with this past week, and will continue practicing with through the next week:

The First Mindfulness Training: Openness

Aware of the suffering created by fanaticism and intolerance, we are determined not to be idolatrous about or bound to any doctrine, theory, or ideology, even Buddhist ones. We are committed to seeing the Buddhist teachings as guiding means that help us develop our understanding and compassion. They are not doctrines to fight, kill, or die for. We understand that fanaticism in its many forms is the result of perceiving things in a dualistic and discriminative manner. We will train ourselves to look at everything with openness and the insight of interbeing in order to transform dogmatism and violence in ourselves and in the world.

To read all 14, please click here.

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