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Watch What You Say (& How You Say It)

On Saturday, while standing in line at the Good Food Store (our local organic food market), I overheard the dude in front of me telling the cashier that he was going to see the new Star Wars movie. In the interest of working on my small talk/social engagement skills, I chimed in: “Oh, there’s a new Star Wars movie out, eh?” To which he replied – friendly enough, but still incredulously – “Where have you been? Under a rock?!”

How do I respond? I pondered internally. Hmm.

After a brief pause – quickly deciding that it was not at all the direction I wanted to tread in to toss back some kind of sarcastic barb about how when I read the world news, other more pressing matters are thankfully covered than what’s hot at the box office – I said: “I like rocks! It’s kind of nice under there.”

This is such a frequent occurrence! We use unskillful words and judgemental tones of voice based on our ongoing assumptions that the reality of those around us is the same as our own. It never ceases to amaze me how potent our choice of words really is and how big of a difference it makes to develop a kind disposition when speaking.

May we all practice – myself super included! – to watch what we say and how we say it. Too often, we just speak and have little to no idea of what it is we’re saying and why it is we’re talking. It’s really important to know that we spread the seeds of either benefit or harm in every word we offer – and don’t offer.

Words matter. Truly.

Let us be good to one another and use words that inspire self-confidence, joy, and hope and help foster the spirit of brotherhood and sisterhood in our wake.

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Solitude & Community

Waking up, I smile to all of the causes and conditions that make life possible and full of richness.

I recently determined, after years of sporadic pondering, that 3:00am still constitutes as night, whereas 4:00am can be considered morning. Given that I went to bed last night around 8:00pm, I gave myself permission to get up at 3:44am this morning. Lately, though, as I’ve been waking up earlier than usual, I’ve been telling myself that I have to wait until at least 4:00am, when it’s morning, to get up. I mean, there is such a thing as waking up too early.

Recently, I’ve been filled with a sort of electric, buzzing, fertile energy. I think it has to do with my mind and body’s muscle memory kicking in, as I prepare to head back to Deer Park Monastery (DP) soon. I’ve been waking up earlier than usual, spending certain evenings staying up later than usual, and I’m filled to the brim and spilling over with flowing creative juices.

My husband and I will be going to DP on retreat for 3 weeks in early January. We’ve been going to DP every January, for what will be my 5th year and my husband’s 4th. It’s been a lovely annual pilgrimage. A replenishing source of both powers of fluidity and solidity – and of both elements of solitude and community.

Most of us – maybe even all of us – need a balance of solitude and community. Time to reconnect and recharge on our own accord – to dance it out in our living room or read a book uninterrupted or hike it out in the woods, or whatever your chosen “out” is – and time to be nourished by others, supported in the company of people that replenish and inspire us.

And, of course, we each have our own balance to find. I’m realizing that my particular balance is struck on the daily, as of late. I enjoy my solitude in the wee hours of the darkened, melodic spell of morning: writing, reading, sipping tea, and sometimes dancing, which sets the stage for a day of connecting with others, in a variety of ways. When I stay in close contact with myself, I am able to ascertain which type of nourishment I am in need of: that which comes from time spent flying solo or that which comes from cultivating connection and friendship, watering the seeds of love. Both are necessary and vital in the art of thriving as a human ecosystem. We need to know how to care well for ourselves – to know how to fill and strengthen our own reservoirs of joy and ease – so that we may know how, and be able to, care well for others, as part of the planetary organism breathing and pulsating all around us. We need to learn how to commune with ourselves, in order to commune with others. We tend to our own internal garden, so that we may be of service and benefit to others.

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Posted by on December 17, 2017 in Everyday Practice

 

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Love Poem for Montana

To hear this love poem being read: https://soundcloud.com/inmindfulmotion/montana

 

Montana is the blanket I wrap myself in when I have a hard time sleeping,
the warm elixir soothing my weary bones
when the cold is all I can feel penetrating into the crux
of my rampant misgivings of what it means to be human.

Montana never fidgets from boredom or agitation and, like a lady,
always knows when it’s the proper time to look you in the eye
and when it’s time to turn away.

Montana can cradle an un-soothed babe and carry a cord of wood
in the same arms it fashions to unfurl the ties that bind our troubled ways –
it speaks in fluid solitude in the rhythm of rocks and rivers,
a native tongue down in the valley,
with unfolding fields preparing to flourish and wither on the same breath.

If death were to come calling for me tomorrow,
I’d take solace in knowing that Montana stole my heart as a girl,
and in learning how to love it back with the same ferocity in return,
I became the woman I am now.

Montana is the thread I’ve mended the tears of my past with,
the melody I sing when the very core of my teeth ache
in unison with the heartbreak of the people, and
the tonic I swallow to turn the dials of my internal static
to a station of higher frequency.

I plan on loving Montana as hard as I can,
as long as it will have me and as much as it can stand
until at last I crack wide open and melt into its roots,
the cycle of life renewed by all that I’ve absorbed.

Montana is an impossibly still lake I hold up as a mirror,
reminding me who I am and want to be –
a guide that holds my hand and whispers softly in my ear
which direction I should tread, and
like no one else,
is able to keep up with me.

Give or take a couple of years,
I’ve spent just shy of the last 20 of em here –
all my loves made and broken
in the fragrant tides of winter and spring,
beneath the great expanse of sky
spreading like a crow’s wings overhead.

And I reckon I’m head over hills still madly in love –
Montana is the ink in my pen I put to paper every morning,
the heat curving outwards from the fire,
smoothing my skin with warmth like a lover’s touch.

Montana is the drumming of my heartbeat,
the dance my hips sway to –
Montana is the monastery bell,
calling me like winter
inward home.

 
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Posted by on December 16, 2017 in Creative Writing

 

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Virtues

 

Come and settle beside me.

Though, truth be told, I don’t enjoy your company.

I wish you weren’t here, sticking around,
a reminder of old habit energies I long to not be haunted by.

I wish I could move on from being held in your presence.

I mean, part of me feels strongly about there being more pressing matters to tend to,
verses babysitting your tendencies, holding your hand.

Still, I’m trying.

I’m trying not to resent and regret the sight of you.

Trying not to get lost in feelings of shame.

And, goodness knows, it’s not easy.

This above snippet of verse is something I penned in my journal early this morning. I had set my alarm for 4:00am but awoke naturally at 3:00am. After a few minutes of attempting to get back to sleep, I decided it wasn’t happening and just got up.

I’ve been processing some internal static. Trying my best to befriend it, instead of what I want to do, which is to dropkick it far away, so that it lands somewhere out of sight and out of mind. Old habit energies, old patterns of thought and behavior have been sifting into my mind and heartscape as of late. It’s terribly uncomfortable. Though, I’m appreciating that it’s further teaching me the ways of humility: Ben Franklin’s 13th virtue.

Franklin’s list above, that he fashioned in 1726 when we has 20-years-old, is quite remarkable, considering his age.

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Posted by on December 14, 2017 in Everyday Practice

 

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Daily Rituals

Benjamin Franklin’s ideal daily routine, from his autobiography

Given this schedule snippet, I think ol’ Ben Franklin and I could’ve been friends. Last night, my friend Jeff lent me a book he thought I’d enjoy, called Daily Rituals: How Great Minds Make Time, Find Inspiration, and Get to Work, by Mason Currey. The image above is pictured alongside the title page at the start of the book, and right away I thought to myself: This is gonna be a good read.

I read the intro and the first 15 pages this morning and was hooked. Over 160 of the greatest philosophers, writers, composers and artists are featured in this collection of Daily Rituals. And I could relate right away with the author’s musings in the intro, which I took as a good sign of things to come. He writes:

 

My underlying concerns in the book are issues that I struggle with in my own life: How do you do meaningful creative work while also earning a living? Is it better to devote wholly to a project or to set aside a small portion of each day? And when there doesn’t seem to be enough time for all you hope to accomplish, must you give things up (sleep, income, a clean house), or can you learn to condense activities, to do more in less time…More broadly, are comfort and creativity incompatible, or is the opposite true: Is finding a basic level of daily comfort a prerequisite for sustained creative work?

…The book’s title is Daily Rituals, but my focus in writing it was really people’s routines. The word connotes ordinariness and even a lack of thought; to follow a routine is to be on autopilot. But one’s daily routine is also a choice, or a whole series of choices. In the right hands, it can be a finely calibrated mechanism for taking advantage of a range of limited resources: time (the most limited resource of all) as well as willpower, self-discipline, optimism.

And my favorite line from the intro:

A solid routine fosters a well-worn groove for one’s mental energies and helps stave off the tyranny of moods.

With the catalyst and accelerate of going to Deer Park Monastery every January for the past 4 years, to spend a few weeks on retreat, I’ve parlayed myself into something I’d been wanting for a long while: a consistent and diligent routine, primarily to help me develop a writing schedule that I could stick with. As someone on disability, who works a job-job just one day a week, I have a lot of unstructured time on my hands. But, as I am also someone who is highly organized and manages, plans, and hosts a wealth of different things, I perform optimally when I come up with a schedule to follow.

Every day I am balancing my passion for writing with my to-do list associated with being the director of a mindfulness community center, serving in my capacity as a spiritual leader to my cherished sangha, and being a grateful home-maker, helping to take care of my household and the people who reside within its humble walls. There’s also the delightful element of cultivating friendships, which is a great joy for me that I prioritize in my life. And last – but actually first in the priorities department – comes the relationship that I build and strengthen with my own self and my mindfulness practice. So, these are ALL part of my every day balance: writing, to-do list on the mindfulness center/sangha front, to-do list on the home front, staying in close contact with friends, and staying in close connection with myself. And in all sincerity, I do each of these things with an overwhelming sense of gratitude. Each element nourishes me in different ways. AND, I actively practice to keep it that way. How we live is a matter of choice – it really is – and I choose to fuel up my joy and gratitude tanks on the daily.

While it doesn’t speak to everyone, of course, having daily rituals and a schedule works really well for me. Lately, I’ve been stepping into sharing about this side of myself more, which can be challenging, as there’s a tendency for others to either feel bad for not having such a regimented accounting of their own time or for them to be rather incredulous about the nature of how I craft my daily routine. What?! they’ll say, you get up every day at 5am?! That’s crazy! And then I’m all like: Is it? I mean, on some level I get that it’s not super common and comes as a surprise to hear, but on another level I’d rather not draw unnecessary attention to myself and have to field people’s shock-and-awe response.

But, as I’ve been working towards sharing more and more about myself, in regards to both creative and mundane matters – in the last year especially – this new read I’ve just started offers a wonderful writing prompt for me to embark upon. So this is me, embarking upon it.

I wrote this in my leather-bound journal early this morning:

Just as the sun needs to trade places with the moon in order to construct the most suitable conditions for life-dwelling, so too does my desire for solitude and stillness sit in balance with the nourishment and inspiration I richly receive from being in the direct and precious company of others. Like the in-breath and out-breath, I require both solo and collaborative time, in order to thrive.

 

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Posted by on December 13, 2017 in Everyday Practice

 

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Not Eating the Cookie

44. Train in the three difficulties.

Commentary

The three difficulties (or the three difficult practices) are:

  1. To recognize your neurosis as neurosis,
  2. then not to do the habitual thing, but to do something different to interrupt the neurotic habit, and
  3. to make this practice a way of life.

– from Always Maintain a Joyful Mind by Pema Chodron

Last week, I made 6-dozen chocolate chip cookies – 4 as a contribution for a hospice function and 2 for my boys, Mike and Jaden (husband & stepson, respectively). (I mean really, is there anything more heartless than volunteering to bake cookies for an event and then telling the people you reside alongside with: Sorry guys, I know the house smells delicious and all but these cookies are all spoken for.) As my home bakery got up and running, there were cookies on every available surface, strewn about the kitchen, as far as the eye could see. And my practice in that moment was to not eat the cookies. And it wasn’t easy. But, as I’ve been training in the skilled art of not eating the cookie, for the past 3-4 years now, it wasn’t as hard as it used to be.

Four years ago, I would’ve thought it madness, an impossibility of colossal proportion, to not eat the cookie. After all, cookies – and chocolate in general and most other things full of sugar – are the express culmination of all things good and decent in the world. But now that I’ve been training, even though it is still trying at times, I’m starting to enter a new realm that I’ve heard tale about, but scoffed at and sloughed off as being sheer and total nonsense and lunacy. The realm of not only not eating the cookie but delighting in not eating the cookie. And much of the time, this realm includes not even being tempted to eat the cookie, as its allure has greatly diminished over time.

They don’t call to me like they once did – or, maybe it’s that I’ve learned to tune them out. Ah, yes. That’s it. I now declare, triumphantly: Let the cookies call all they want! I’m not picking up!

I’m now imagining our landline ringing. Bring bring, bring bring. I go to check the caller i.d and there, displayed in bold letters taking up the whole of the phone screen, is one word: COOKIES. If it had been when I first started working on my sugar addiction, I would’ve burst into a cold sweat upon seeing that COOKIES were calling. But now, I’m all like: Leave a message after the beep, COOKIES. But don’t hold your breath waiting for me to call back! And the COOKIES are all like: Nicole, was it something we said?! We miss you. Don’t you miss us?! And then I’m all like: Boom! Nope!

It’s important to mention that my ability to not eat a single cookie when surrounded by 6-dozen in various stages of preparation in the kitchen, is the equivalent of the sugar Olympics, when it comes to the sport of not eating the cookie. I would not advise anyone to start here. I needed to do some serious training to get where I am now. Trying to break the cycle of sugar addiction while surrounded by a sea of cookies is like learning how to swim by just jumping in the deep end and seeing how it goes. In short: it won’t be pretty. There will be flailing about – and most likely, it will end by either you or someone in close proximity uttering these words in distress: Man down!

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Posted by on December 11, 2017 in Everyday Practice

 

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Self-Acceptance

If we were to encounter a magic lantern in an enchanted wood that came with a directive that our 3 wishes had to be about self-improvement, most of us could easily come up with a few things right off the bat about ourselves that we’d like to change. We all have stuff that we have little to no ability to change about who we are, but we REALLY wish we could.

My longest running and most prevalent “something to change” would be the decreasing but still ongoing companion of Acne. I guess it makes some kind of sense that since I was into boys at an early age, that I would wind up developing early, too. And perhaps in an effort to teach me the graces of humility at an early age, accompanying my amply sized chest grew the red, swollen marks of acne. Through middle school, high school, and my two years of college, acne was a varying but constant presence, strewn plainly across my face for all to see and sometimes marvel at. It was my crippling weakness, my deflater of self-esteem, self-worth, and self-acceptance. And ultimately, by way of debilitating levels of agony and disappointment, my greatest teacher.

I firmly believe that every single excruciating thing that has ever happened to us has the potential to wake us up to something. Every experience has the capacity to be used for growth or deflation, depending on how we use it.

Just as every tool can be a weapon, so too can every weapon be a tool.

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Posted by on December 10, 2017 in Everyday Practice

 

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