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On Friendship

Art piece I commissioned from my stepson’s girlfriend Sierra (it’s her own design). To me, it’s the perfect wordless expression of the practice of cultivating joy – I just love it! It also depicts the power of what a good friendship has the potential to do: alight our inner landscape.

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I just started reading a new book that has me thinking about friendships: Ethan Nichtern’s The Dharma of “The Princess Bride.” It’s appropriately well timed, as my bearings have been shifting in this area, especially over the last year. I’ve been recently angling myself in the direction of pondering such questions as: Who are the people I want to spend my time with? What qualities do I find important in a friend? What are the different avenues of friendships and how do they compliment and/or contrast one another?

In light of my inner musings, I appreciated this passage from the book that I read just today:

“My teacher Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche has repeatedly made the same case: it matters whom you invite into your personal sphere. He calls it “hanging out with the right crowd.” He’s not talking about the cool kids. He’s talking about associating with those people who help you wake up…In fact, a Buddhist definition for best friend could simply be the person who helps you bring out your “best” qualities: mindfulness, generosity, patience, confidence, and creativity. The best friends are the ones who support your awakening, and whose awakening you in turn support.”

from The Dharma of “The Princess Bride” by Ethan Nichtern

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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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Creating Balance

I gave a talk at the Open Sky Sangha in Kalispell, Montana last night, Thursday June 14th. (Open Sky is one of the sister groups of my home sangha Be Here Now.) Below is what I wrote out ahead of time, to help me prepare for the talk. If you’d prefer to listen to the audio recording, vs. reading it, you can venture here:

http://www.openway.org/content/creating-balance-practice-talk-nicole-dunn

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Title: Creating Balance

Subtitle: Cultivating self-care while also staying active and engaged in the world

Last month, for the week leading up to and including Memorial Day weekend, I went on a solo sojourn and stayed in the Mission Lookout Tower, which is just outside of Swan Lake. So, for 5 nights and 6 days, I situated myself 40-feet up off the ground in a 15X15 glass nest perch in the pines, with a 2-3 foot wide wrap-around deck, which afforded me sweeping views of the Swan Range to the east and the Mission mountains to the west.

I reserved this recent solo stay at Mission Lookout back in November, because I knew that come mid-late May, I’d be in need of some time of restoration and refueling of my energy tanks – and boy was I right! Prior to heading to the tower, my energy was sorely waning and I was feeling over-extended and organizationally meetinged-out. I recorded my debut spoken word album and had a release party and performance in March; I was one of the directors of our statewide spring retreat in April; and was in charge of our big annual community yard sale fundraiser at our mindfulness center in Missoula two weeks after the retreat – on top of working part time as a nanny, being a weekly hospice volunteer, taking care of my family household, having a regular writing regiment, and so on. And this isn’t anything special or unique – we all have a myriad of things that we tend to on an ongoing basis.

No matter how glad we may be to invest our energy into all the different things that we do, there comes a time that in order to continue doing those things, we will need to find, create, and make important the art of resting and self-care, lest we become completely and utterly exhausted and kaput. So, developing a relationship with cultivating our own sense of balance between being active in the world and learning how to rest and replenish is not just something nice to do, it’s vitally important to our ability to continue beautifully into the future – to keep actively practicing in our spiritual mindfulness tradition and in all of the endeavors we participate in: work, school, family life, social life, home upkeep, traveling, volunteering, recreation, hobbies/interests, etc. We extend ourselves out and about in so many ways and we can liken ourselves to a car: our gas tank can only take us so far before we need to refuel. If we have more energy going out than that which is coming in, we will find ourselves eventually broken down and stranded on the side of the road. And this is a position that is all too commonplace in our culture. We are a nation of doers. And there’s nothing wrong with that!

The hitch in the giddy-up is that we are not well-acquainted with how to ongoingly restore ourselves. We don’t prioritize – alongside of: work, family, friends, and so on – the practices of stopping, resting, nourishing, and healing.

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Nose Rings & Moving West

 

This month – and spilling into early July – marks a couple of large milestones.

Written on June 5th, 2018:

On my fourteenth birthday, I got my nose pierced on South Street in Philly. It was the summer before I entered high school and I regarded the piercing as a symbol of my coming of age. I’m now a month away from turning 39-years-old.

This morning, standing in front of the bathroom mirror, I took out my nose ring to clean it, just as I’ve done a million times before. Only, today something was different. I decided not to reinstate it back where it belonged. I’ve not spent a whole day without a stud in my left nostril in one month shy of 25 years. I don’t even see the piercing for the most part anymore when I look at myself. It has simply melded into my facial composition, becoming just as much a part of my appearance as my acne scars and eyebrows.

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Written on June 8th, 2018:

This morning, as I ran a towel over my face after showering, I instinctively made the allowance for my nose piercing, arching the towel around the left side of my nose, as as not to rip the earring out.

Then I remembered. There was no nose ring to make such necessary accommodations for anymore.

I took it out – and left it out – 3 mornings ago.

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As an update: the nose ring is still out.

Switching.

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Those Who Know Me Well

Those who know me well, know that I have a knack for naming inanimate objects and other things you don’t typically give names to. They know I’m an expert in collecting indoor bugs, which I then set free outside. They know I’m a sucker for babies and that no matter how pressed for time I might be, I will assuredly stop and crouch down to pet a dog. 

They know my rock star husband is Macklemore but not because he’s my type – which he’s not – but because of his lyrics, charisma, and smile. They know, too, that it would NEVER work out between us, which is totally true. They know that my vocal stylings are formed heavily by having listened to a lot of Tori Amos and Ani Difranco in my formative years, and that I have a secret calling to be a traveling musician in a band with a tour bus and a new stage to play on every night.

They know I have a special affection for crows and ravens and that my affinity for trees likely influenced my wearing of the same matching color scheme of clothes every day. They know I don’t wear underwear, except for those days when it’s impossible not to, and they know I don’t do anything with my hair other than wash it, brush it, and clip it back with something – no trimming, cutting, styling, primping, or dying.

They know I write a whole lot more than I talk and I don’t tend to give advice unless it’s asked for and they know that if I’m in town and not at meditation on a Monday night it means there’s something wrong.

They know that my high rate of organization and efficiency rubs a lot of people the wrong way and that it’s difficult for me to forge close friendships in part because of how often they’re intimidated by me – and they know that makes me sad.

They know I live with a lotta heart and joy to be alive and an uncommon fortitude of intention.

They know that I know that I’m a marvel; that I do my internal work; and practice to stay grounded, connected, and humble.

 

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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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Solo Retreat in a Lookout Tower (Part 3 of 3)

The fortune cookie I got the night before I was set to head to the lookout

 

Thursday May 24th, 2018: Day 4

He was Montana-handsome, meaning he had nice facial scrub. I’d put him in his early 40’s, though it’s worth mentioning that I put most people in this age category as of late and I find that I’m right only about half of the time. Maybe 40%. I suppose my piling of everyone in this age bracket has something to do with the fact that I’m approaching this decade myself.

Given that it was 9:00am on a Thursday and Swan Lake would not be an impossible place to drive through and not realize it’s a town, I was the only customer in his establishment: OConnell’s Qwick Stop, which touts: Beer. Bait. Pizza. Groceries. on its sign. OConnell’s is located 8.1 miles from my home in the tower, an easy jog north on highway 83.

When I pulled into the parking lot, I hesitated to venture inside, as I knew I’d be the only customer and that equated to a certain amount of pressure. Pressure to: buy something, to engage in polite conversation, to field questions about where I was from and what I was doing in the area. All the things I really didn’t want to be doing. Before going in, I prepared to tell one of two accounts of my happenings, if I were asked, depending on whether it was a male or female doing the asking. If a male-person asked, I’d tell him I was just passing through, not wanting to tip my hand about my being a lone woman in the woods nearby. If a female-person asked, I’d tell her the truth, figuring she’d be far less likely to stalk and murder me in my sleep. When I entered, though, I realized there was a third demographic of people-folk I hadn’t considered, and therefor had not crafted a response for: close-in-age-Montana-handsome-dude-with-kid-in-tow. When he asked, as I knew he would, I told him the truth, too. I realize it’s not entirely sound reasoning but I give extra street cred and trust to guys sporting kids. I figure if the kid seems decent enough, then it stands to reason that its accompanying adult must be relatively okay. And its mother left the little one in their charge, so that was something.

There’s a standard and delightful mix of wares in OConnell’s, similar to that I’ve seen in many a one-store town in Montana. Jazzy printed aprons were the first thing to catch my eye. There were hand-knitted animals, organic eggs, ice cream bars, and canisters of bear spray you could wear around your waist. You can rent a SUP board for an hour or up to two days. You can order up a breakfast pizza or a regular pizza and you can fill up your gas tank out front for $2.95/gallon. I didn’t see the bait section, as was promised on the sign, but I’m not sure that’s something you put out on display. You can purchase a camping hammock, rain poncho, and collapsible canteen from the same wall of hanging camping gear. And, of course, junk food and beer were in high supply. I found it especially considerate that they had a small selection (no pun intended) of condoms, tucked in next to the nail clippers and ear plugs.

I left with a locally made Montana-styled t-shirt to give to my stepson and an 8-pack of crayons in which to leave in the tower, to go along with the Smokey the Bear kids activity books.

What I found most interesting about my store excursion, however, was that despite the fact that I was clearly in the store by myself, Montana-handsome guy saw fit to assume I was part of a pair, as in: “How long are you guys staying in the tower for?” and “If you guys come back down to town, you should check out our homemade pizza.”

Guys? I thought to myself. As in, plural? As in, more than just me? Who else would I bring along with me for pizza? Do I need to bring someone else along, and your large sign out front stating: “Any pizza can be a personal pizza if you believe in yourself,” is a rouse?!

I guess he’s just societally geared not to think of women as solo travelers. It’s really not an outlandish conclusion to make, when you think about it. There truly aren’t very many of us out there.

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