20 Years & Counting

20 years ago today, when I was 20-years-old and Mike was 21, we were wed.

He is the warmth to my sun’s rising;
the turtle to my shell.
He is the manifestation of my heart’s calling
to mate for life with a kind and decent man.
And he’s messy and forgetful to my controlling
and organized and somehow we balance each
other out well and make a good team in this regard.

My heart sways in his direction no matter our distance.
And if we should part company too soon and unexpectedly,
whether by force or poor choice,
I will take comfort in knowing full well
that every precious coin spilling from the bank
of my broken heart, was worth its weight in gold.

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In Quiet Peaceful Protest

The Quiet Room at the Philadelphia airport. Dec 22, 2019

Sleigh bells ring, are you listening? Me? I’m in quiet (not silent, cuz here I am blogging about it) peaceful protest. Still, I can hear the bells tolling on Santa’s sleigh; from around the necks of his jolly crew of reindeer; on the shoes of his hard-working elves; from cash registers near and far. I wish forever and a day this holiday of Christmas was held in sacred accord with religious vows and values. That it wasn’t about what Santa wraps and leaves in secret under the tree. That it wasn’t about glorifying the acquiring of a bunch of stuff we don’t need. That it wasn’t about lying to our children.

It isn’t stuff we’re short on. Time and un-distracted presence is what we’re collectively lacking. Both are free; priceless.

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Grief and Loss

This coming week, I’ll be speaking on a panel as part of an annual series I’ve been putting together at our local Open Way Mindfulness Center the past few years, called Mindful Community Conversations (MCC).

MCC takes place once a month from September through December and focuses on heart-heavy topics, or topics otherwise held in the shadows of our awareness and/or attention. This past fall we’ve covered the topics of: Prison Reentry, Working Skillfully with Sexual Energy, and Healing Journeys of Mental Health. Our next and last installment of MCC, which I’ll be on the panel for, is on the topic of Grief and Loss.

In past years, I set up each MCC with one speaker but this year I thought we’d try something new and I set up each topic evening with a panel of 3-4 speakers. Our speakers thus far have, almost solely, been members of our local sanghas: Be Here Now and Open Way – practitioners of mindfulness who have lived through or with a particular challenge and are able and willing to share their personal experience of healing and how their practice helps support them.

Here’s what I plan on sharing:

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Stage Fright

I am the head organizer and also a performer in a show happening tonight at our local Roxy Theater called Word of Mouth. This is our 2nd annual show and tickets sold out 2 days ago. WOM brings together spoken word, storytelling, and standup comedy into one show – and it’s freaking awesome!
Word of Mouth Mission:
WOM aims to both support and highlight local wordsmiths and nourish and inspire the audience by way of rediscovering the power of words through various creative forms of self-expression.

As a spoken word artist, to say that I get nervous before performances would be a fairly large understatement – it would be like saying that a bear is basically the same sort of animal in disposition and behavior as a large dog.

I put value in telling people that I get super nervous before performances, as people who see me do spoken word often tell me that they never would’ve guessed that I was nervous. I think it’s important to help dispel the common notion that just because I’m good at what I do and just because I’m up there on stage doing it, equates to me feeling super chill about it. I do not feel super chill about it. Every time I gear up for a spoken word performance I literally say to myself: Whose idea was this?!

Here’s something I penned this morning in my journal:

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52-Weeks of Thank You’s

For those of you who are a much appreciated devoted follower here, you might recall that each January, in lieu of New Year’s Resolutions (which I’ve never been a big fan of), I adopt 2 or 3 new mindfulness-based practices to weave in throughout my calendar year, which I then switch out for new practices the following January.

This past January, one of my new mindfulness practices was to embark upon an exercise that I read about on the Random Acts of Kindness website: 52-Weeks of Thank You’s.

The concept is pretty self-explanatory: each week, I craft a thank you letter/note/card to someone. I’ve been including friends, family members, and also local businesses and organizations. I’ve done a total of 44 thank you’s thus far, with this week marking week #45 of 2019.

I made labels to affix to each card (see pic above) and my personal commitment was to not send these thank you’s via the less personal route of email but to instead write them out by hand and send them in the U.S postal mail, putting some love into the dwindling art of letter writing.

This practice has been quite an interesting new road I’ve been traveling on, with some weeks harder than others to drum up my next person/business to send a thank you to. Still, even when it’s been a bit challenging or I’ve had the thought Oh man, I have another thank you card to do already? Didn’t I just do that?! angling myself in the direction of sending direct thank you’s to people and businesses has been nourishing to my own sense of connectedness.

Over the years, I’ve invested in a number of different gratitude-strengthening practices and this is what I’ve discovered for myself personally: the more I practice seeing and touching gratitude in my life, the more I see and touch more reasons to be grateful – and the stronger my sense of gratitude becomes, the more joy and ease and sense of connection I feel as a result.

Wells of Wisdom

Over the past few days, I’ve interacted with a number of various wells of wisdom. I so gratefully appreciate the digital age we are in and the easy access we are afforded to so many  wisdom teachers and teachings.

I participated in the Being & Doing Summit, a 5-day free online event that featured over 25 spiritually or mindfully based teachers covering a myriad of topics. I am currently taking an online 6-week course on Trauma-Sensitive Mindfulness with PhD, writer, and educator David Treleaven. I’ve been watching workshop clips and talks on YouTube given by Marshall Rosenberg, developer of NVC (non-violent communication). And I’ve been watching Dharma talks online, given by monastics in my Buddhist tradition.

And thanks to online ordering – after a failed attempt to locate a particular book locally – I received a used copy of Dream Work by Mary Oliver in the mail just a couple of days ago. Mary Oliver is one of my favorite wisdom teachers.

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Why I Walk for Suicide Prevention

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.

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Sticky Saloon

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.

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.