If you’re like me, you appreciate having concrete ways in which to bring the practice of mindfulness and the teachings of the dharma to life in your daily activities. For example, if I encounter teachings about impermanence or compassion or gratitude or true happiness and I don’t have ways – or develop ways – in which to actually practice impermanence, compassion, gratitude, and true happiness, then I situate myself at the great risk of having the teachings just be ideas that sound good but never launch off the page to truly inform my everyday thoughts, speech, and actions.
Interbeing is another example of something that sounds good. And if I don’t delve more into it; become curious about what it really means and how to put it into play; ask myself questions; form a relationship with it, I’m side-stepping the real wisdom and possibility for insight that exists within it. If I’m like: yeah yeah, interbeing, I get it, we’re all connected, blah blah blah, then I’ve clearly missed the mark.
Here are some musings that have stirred up for me recently on the dharmic thread of the insight of interbeing:
Yesterday, a new modem arrived in the mail from our internet provider, along with a set of instructions for self-installation. It wasn’t rocket science, especially since we were simply replacing an older modem that was already hooked up with all of the same kind of cords attached.
Everything was going great for me set-up wise – I did all the stuff and connected all the stuff and disconnected all the old stuff and cleaned up all the dust & debris that had accumulated in the corner where I removed all the old stuff – until the very last step. Activate modem using your smartphone or computer, it said. So there I was on my laptop doing what it said and then…death.
An error message popped up on my screen that said I needed to call the 800 number for support. Drat.
Well. What choice did I have but to call the number?! It was either that or go without internet service (gasp!). My preemptive frustration for needing to call to complete the installation of the new modem was situated in figuring I’d have a long hold time waiting for a customer service agent, as that’s been par for the course in the wake of covid. And, I was right. I sat on hold for a total of 61 minutes, followed by an additional 16 minutes accompanied by a dude on the other end trying to fix a number of issues that kept cropping up.
Amid this collectively difficult time, the question often arises (in my circle anyway): What are you doing to help nourish and restore yourself? What elements of self-care are you investing in in order to stay balanced? Spurred by this, I felt called to fashion this post as a way to help me process my own journey. Here goes.
One of my new favorite quotes is:
“Under duress, we do not rise to our expectations, but fall to our level of training.” – Bruce Lee
I can only imagine what my life would be like right now amid this pandemic and this heightened time of racial awareness and justice movement had I not already been investing in a mindfulness practice prior to these swells of turmoil. A Chinese proverb comes to mind: Dig the well before you’re thirsty.
It’s incredibly difficult to learn from scratch the skills and tools of self-care amid a period of internal and/or external collapse. In my experience with serving as the program director for our weekly sangha for the past 18-years, I’ve seen it over and over again: people coming to our meditation group in a deeply ailing state, looking for something to keep them afloat and bolster their well-being, only to fall away from such things as continuing to attend sangha and practicing meditation in short order because it’s not the quick fix remedy they were hoping for. This isn’t to say that it can’t or doesn’t work for some folks to have hard times propel them into actions that create lasting change but in my experience, this is a very small demographic of individuals.
This week marks 75 years
since bombs were dropped
on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
I read a recent article
in which a woman who survived
the blast said that she hates sunrises,
even now, all these decades later,
as the colors remind her of that day.
There’s a word for survivors
of those two days;
those two nuclear devastations
in Japan at the end of WWII:
One word tells the tale.
I have no frame of reference
for undergoing such horridity.
No footprint to layer over a hibakusha’s
in what remained of their city in ashes,
strewn with tens of thousands of dead bodies,
once my homeland’s jets abided
by their orders without imploring
their own conscience.
How strange that we are both a nation
of people who do what we’re told
and also become enraged when we’re
told what to do.
What must it be like to hate sunsets?
To have one word paint the picture
of how you managed not to die
that one day in 1945?
And what other choice
did the hibakusha have
but to start picking up the pieces
as soon as the dust started clearing?
What other call could they answer
but to carry on living
for all those who could not?
As an ordained member of Thich Nhat Hanh’s Order of Interbeing (OI), rooted in the Plum Village tradition, I know that my teacher has given us OI members the important task of sangha building as our highest priority as spiritual practitioners and leaders. Sangha meaning: spiritual community in Buddhism.
Inspired by a dialog I had the other day with an OI aspirant I am helping to mentor, I’d like to share some of my thoughts around what sangha building means to me and especially how it’s taking new forms in the wake of covid.
I’ve been reflecting recently on how many regular annual sangha gatherings and events I’ve not had – or will not have – the delight in organizing this year: our local spring mindfulness retreat; my home sangha’s summer campout; potlucks at my house; Mindful Community Conversations; Friendsgiving in November; open mic nights at our local mindfulness center; our White Elephant Gift Exchange in December. And the cancellation of all of these events and programs has resulted in feelings of sorrow and disappointment and also feelings of relief and spaciousness.
My weekly home sangha, Be Here Now, has been meeting on Zoom now since March. In transferring to the Zoom platform, coupled with the cancellation of all the things that would normally bring us all together and help strengthen our collective group and individual relationships, I’ve often been referring to a teaching shared during a class series I took back in January centered around Nonviolent Communication (or NVC as it’s commonly referred to as) by our instructor: Be fierce about your needs and creative about your strategies.
To me, sangha building is more than organizing chances and opportunities for folks in our spiritual practice to gather together as a group, it involves showing up for people, offering support, reaching out, checking in, touching base, remembering & honoring birthdays, and getting involved in the lives of active sangha members with heartfelt interest. It involves me stepping into my own discomfort and being vulnerable. It involves me not putting on an act or a front or pretending I have all the answers. It involves me bringing my full sometimes confused, sometimes messy self to the table.
Two years ago, I had no idea about what it meant to be white.
Two years ago, I thought racists were individuals who were outright and visibly cruel to members of the BIPOC community and racism was something that had mostly died out after the Civil Rights Movement.
Two years ago, I thought BIPOC communities were making a big deal out of nothing.
Two years ago, I would’ve thought “enough already” about drudging up the past of slavery.
Two years ago, I would’ve subscribed to the notion that to not see race was a good thing and meant that I was treating everyone equally.
Two years ago, I would’ve been the white person to counter BLM with ALM.
Two years ago, I would’ve sloughed off such things as white privilege and deemed white supremacy as something that applied only to extremists.
Two years ago, I believed what it says in our Declaration of Independence about how all men are created equal and endowed with certain unalienable rights including life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Two years ago, I was extremely un-educated and harmfully mis-informed.
Two years ago, I never would’ve possibly considered saying what I’m about to say: I am a racist; I help propel white supremacy; I have white privilege.
Let me break it down for you:
Prompted by a teaching from Thich Nhat Hanh that I’ve been reading and reflecting on this week (see pic below), centered around asking ourselves as mindfulness practitioners Are You Sure?, I made this creation (see pic above) from some recently purchased Modge Podge and a package of scrap cardstock.
from Thich Nhat Hanh’s “Everyday Peace Cards” set
It’s easy for me to hold this teaching in the abstract and just sorta hang out and linger in a place of theory and rhetoric with it. Oh yes, my perceptions are usually not accurate. I get it. Makes sense. Okay. Moving on.
As so often is the case for me, I need ways of unpacking Dharma teachings and Buddha-inspired wisdom offerings, in order to embody them in my practice in such a way that brings them to life in an experience-based way. Otherwise, I situate myself at risk of spiritual bypassing, thinking I have something in particular “down” or “figured out,” when in reality I have little to no actual understanding that penetrates down through my intellect and into the heart of my practice.
There ain’t just one way
one catch-all setting
for being “woke.”
There’s a gradient scale
on which we all fall.
It ain’t a matter of
whether we are woke or not woke,
it’s a matter of where we are on the scale.
It’s about knowing no matter where we are,
we will always have further to go
more work to do.
There ain’t no end game
no end of the line.
How can we possibly think
that in the span of one human being
exists the possibility
of tending to all the important matters
that would benefit us all in transforming?
Understanding, healing, support, and advocacy
are needed for so many threads that comprise
our global landscape:
our homeless population;
those with mental illness;
the health of our environment;
animal cruelty in slaughterhouses;
our LGBTQ+ community;
our BIPOC community;
young single mothers;
inner city youth;
our working class poor;
those who are differently abled;
those we are sick and suffering;
our elderly population;
those who have the disease of addiction;
refugees in need of a safe place to land;
abandoned and neglected children…
Let us not declare our self “woke.”
Let us not shame others for not being “woke.”
Let us instead lean into the fortitude
of our human family
and focus and commit our own self
to the work we’re called forth to do.
Let us know our work
do our work
and work hard
at work worth doing.
This is me not knowing what to write; knowing only enough to know that I should just start clacking away and see what happens; knowing that if I allow my current state of I don’t feel like writing to continue that I’ll suffer more for it.
This is me amid a much longer process of inner recallibration than I would prefer, wishing I could just be onto the next thing already – whatever the thing is – with this clunky awkward exhausting stage behind me as something I could point back to and say I came out better for it in the long-run.
This is me, a usually very decisive, action-based dame, being un-nerved by not knowing what the heck comes next in the book of my life.
This is me being antsy & agitated on my meditation cushion in the mornings (but at least still sitting); missing my time spent as a hospice volunteer; missing my time spent as a super amateur drummer for a local African dance troupe; missing spending time with my friends; missing gathering people together for the sake of helping to foster the building of community; missing the attending of music shows; missing the places I used to go and realize now I took for granted pre-virus; missing….
This is me wondering if I have what it takes to actualize my husband and I’s shared long-held vision of building a mindfulness practice center here in our much beloved home state of Montana.
This is me wondering if perhaps I could use a long stay at Deer Park Monastery, my home away from home, to help me refuel and re-hydrate and re-balance.
This is me wondering what my future holds, as I step back and away from certain roles I’ve been invested in for a long long time.
This is me wondering what comes next.
This is me, being human.