In Honor of National Poetry Month

All the necessary components for this dame to craft her own poetry:

a dark & early morning; the poetry of someone else; a cup of tea; candlelight; my notebook & trusty steed of a pen: a blue-ink, extra-fine, Pilot P-500.

Yesterday, not knowing it was National Poetry Month, I posted this on my Facebook page:

“I feel called to share about a project I have been joyfully working on as of late. I am putting together a homespun book of my poetry to make available for local sale. In honor of it being 2020, it’s called Hindsight is 20/20.

Here is what is likely to be the intro I include in the book:

If a poem doesn’t insist on closer communion with something ordinary and usual, or serve to blow at the dust laced in layers on the lens of our world view, I reckon it must be something entirely other than a poem. A head-heavy logical discourse maybe – or something else equally terrible.”

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Then, this morning, I discovered the reason that prompted my seemingly spontaneous calling to craft that post: it’s National Poetry Month! Perhaps I was tuning into the collective poetic vibration.

Recently, I have been receiving an abundance of nourishment and inspiration from poetry – moreso than usual. Just this past week, two new books of poetry I ordered arrived in the mail, which I’ve been taking great delight in:

I find that poetry, like music, bypasses my brain-heavy logical processing and sifts on down deeper into the soft organ of my heart-space, where intuit replaces reason and I’m guided by feeling instead of thinking.

So, this is me simply wanting to continue to elevate the platform of poetry during this time of global crisis, interlaced with loss, fear, and uncertainty. At first glance, it can be easy to think that poetry is not much to look at – and of course, poetry isn’t for everyone, because no one thing ever is – but I would encourage a second look to be given to the poetic masters. Folks like Mary Oliver, David Whyte, Billy Collins, Maya Angelou, Pablo Neruda, Emily Dickinson, and so many many others.

Poetry can prove to be a powerful salve to help tend to the tears in our spirit, and help heal our broken faith in something bigger.

Some of my most recent haiku:

Quietude in sound
Noise amid silence grows thick
All things shift with time

Our sky grows lighter
Earlier and earlier
A bit more each day

There is no more time
There is all the time we need
Death is far and near

Poetry in flame
A lit match of words is sparked
By a want for change

Mostly, this is it
A captivation of might
Harnessed through my pen

 

 

 

 

Paramita #2: Mindfulness Trainings

(For an intro to the paramitas and more info about this 6-week practice group, please reference my post from last week.)

Here is the verse our local paramita practice group has been reading & reflecting on daily this past week, which I took and pieced together from the section focusing on the Second Paramita from Thay’s book The Heart of the Buddha’s Teachings:

The Five Mindfulness Trainings help protect our body, mind, family, and society. The First Mindfulness Training is about protecting the lives of human beings, animals, plants, and minerals. The second is to prevent exploitation by humans of other living beings and of nature. The third is to protect children and adults from sexual abuse; to protect yourself and protect families and couples; to help other people feel safe. The Fourth Mindfulness Training is to practice deep listening and loving speech. The Fifth Mindfulness Training is about mindful consumption. The most precious gift we can offer our society is to practice the Five Mindfulness Trainings. The Five Mindfulness Trainings are the most concrete way to practice mindfulness. We need a Sangha around us in order to practice them deeply.

The second of the six paramitas is: mindfulness trainings. (To read the Five Mindfulness Trainings in the Plum Village tradition, click here.)

In the first paramita (giving/generosity), Thay wrote: The greatest gift we can offer anyone is our true presence. And in the section on the second paramita, Thay wrote: The most precious gift we can offer our society is to practice the Five Mindfulness Trainings. With deep looking we can see how these two offerings – our true presence and our practice of the mindfulness trainings – are not separate, still, I like the distinction of what I can practice to offer someone else, one-on-one, and what I can practice to offer our collective society.

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Poems In the Wake of Covid19

My morning writing today

Uncertainty

And so,
maybe we’ll see food shortages
from panicked people with ample freezer storage
and money to spare
stockpiling supplies.

Maybe in two months or three,
my husband and I will have trouble paying the mortgage.

Maybe I will lose my disability benefits
amid my current re-evaluation.

Maybe my husband will be stuck in CA
for longer than we have planned.

Maybe this social distancing
and stay-at-home approach
is only in its infancy.

Maybe it will be months
before I can hug my friends again.

Maybe my current enjoyment
of solitude and quietude on the home front
will turn sour and hellish in another 2-weeks.

Maybe our country and global landscape
will never be the same.
In fact: it won’t be. It never is.

Maybe this is what Rilke meant when he said:
you must change your life.*

Maybe this is the shaking up we need
to be shown what is most important.

 

– penned on March 24th, 2020; *I lifted this line from Mary Oliver’s poem Invitation

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Paramita #1: Generosity

Excerpt from The Heart of Buddha’s Teaching by Thich Nhat Hanh:

The Six Paramitas are a teaching of Mahayana Buddhism. Paramita can be translated as “perfection” or “perfect realization.” The Chinese character used for paramita means “crossing over to the other shore,” which is the shore of peace, non-fear, and liberation.

(1) dana paramita – giving, offering, generosity.

(2) shila paramita – precepts or mindfulness trainings.

(3) kshanti paramita – inclusiveness, the capacity to receive, bear, and transform the pain inflicted on you by your enemies and also by those who love you.

(4) virya paramita – diligence, energy, perseverance.

(5) dhyana paramita – meditation.

(6) prajña paramita – wisdom, insight, understanding.

Practicing the Six Paramitas helps us to reach the other shore — the shore of freedom, harmony, and good relationships. 

This past week marked the start of a 6-week, largely online based, self-propelled, group-supported reflection practice I put together in order to delve more deeply into the Six Paramitas. The group is free and open to our local sangha members and there are 6 of us participating. Each week starting on Mondays, we read and reflect daily on a verse I send to the group on the paramita we’re focused on and on Sundays we report back to the group, via a few typed sentences posted on a shared Google doc, about what was alive for us in relation to working with the paramita over the past week. I also send an audio recording for folks to listen to centered on the paramita at hand.

Here is the verse our group has been reading & reflecting on daily this past week, which I took and pieced together from the section focusing on the First Paramita from Thay’s book The Heart of the Buddha’s Teachings:

To give means first of all to offer joy, happiness, and love. The greatest gift we can offer anyone is our true presence. What else can we give? Our stability; Our freedom; Our freshness; Peace; Space; Understanding.

The practice of giving can bring you to the shore of well-being very quickly. What you give is what you receive. Whether you give your presence, your stability, your freshness, your solidity, your freedom, or your understanding, your gift can work a miracle. Dana paramita is the practice of love.

So for the past week, I’ve been focusing on Giving/Generosity. Here are some of my personal reflections & other things I penned down over the last few days:

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Deer Park, Day 15

Freshly mulched Circle Garden :)

Saturday February 22nd, 2020
Day 15

I finished a book
Free to pursue other things
A small weight lifted

4am (tearoom)

Mark the day, mark the time. It’s 4am and I’ve done it. I just finished Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. I made it all the way through. It’s a miracle. Okay, well, not a miracle but it is astounding. If someone were to ask me what the book is about, the honest truth (my truth) would be: I really have no idea. If pressed (which: who does that about a book?), I guess I’d say something seemingly meaningful but actually avoidant like: it’s a coming of age story; a finding who we are story; a story about running until there’s no where left to run.

So I read the book and this morning I finished the book. So, that’s a thing that happened. In two-weeks time spent at a monastery, I read the 530-page book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

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Percolation: The other day, as our work crew was readying to fill the 1988 Toyota with mulch down at the gate, someone mentioned having a preference of shovel. He said he’d been working with it the last few mulching times and gotten to know how it handles, and thus, preferred to use a particular one. Someone else joked: Ah, so you’re attached to it, to which I lightly (and surprisingly) chimed in: I think there’s a difference between attachment and making efficient use of a tool, or something to that effect. As Buddhist practitioners, I think this is a topic that is in need of unpacking. Tossing around the word ‘attachment’ doesn’t do us any favors if we don’t know what it means for our own self and what our motivation or end-game is with it.

Too often, this word gets used with a jilted tone or in a snide manner in a skewed context. It’s not at all helpful to tell someone else when you feel they’re attached to something. It’s also not helpful to patronize someone about it. “Now, now, be a good Buddhist and don’t be attached.” Blech. Who wants to be treated like that? (And I’m coming from experience here. I’ve heard long-term practitioners chide people, myself included, like this.) Spiritual whitewashing is something I have very little tolerance for. As soon as I get even the slightest hint that someone isn’t being sincere or isn’t well-grounded or is caught in the form of the practice, I high-tail it the other way.

In my way of thinking, connecting with others and gravitating towards certain people and certain things is not necessarily attachment. I also don’t think all preferences equate to being attached. For me, attachment is a rigid structure for denying the truth and reality of impermanence. It involves relying on someone or something or some experience to be a certain way in order to make us feel a certain way. When we’re attached, there’s something we want to have stay the same and not change. So, in my view, I think there’s potentially a way to be in close relationship with others and to have likes and interests without being “attached.”

And, as with most things, there’s a spectrum when it comes to attachment, so in a sense, preferences are an attachment, they’re just on the low end of the spectrum. Where any particular attachment falls on the spectrum I think depends on how quickly we are able to shift gears when something unexpected happens. If we prefer a certain shovel, for example, but our shovel is unavailable, we might say: Oh darn. Well, that’s okay, this other one will do. Sure we would’ve liked to have had access to the other shovel but it’s not a big deal to use a different one. It’s on the very low end of the attachment spectrum.

It’s this low end of the spectrum area that has me thinking that perhaps to label it all as attachment, does the actual strong-natured, unhealthy style attachment a disservice. It’s kind of like if we use the word love and say I love you to our BFF and then also say I love this hamburger. When the same word is used to describe two very different situations, doesn’t the meaning of the word suffer? I think it does.

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Deer Park, Day 14

Full moon deck @ DP

Friday February 21st, 2020
Day 14

Coastal and black sage
The hills alive with purple
People arriving

5:20am (tearoom)

When I waked into the TR this morning at 4am, the smell of popcorn greeted me upon entering. I reckon the microwave in here is used almost solely for that purpose. Popcorn plus the two family sized packages of Mega Stuf Oreos that turned up in here yesterday, coupled with the fact that it was Lazy evening last night and Lazy Morning today, I deduce, made for a lively gathering of the lay friends in here last night.

We’re getting low on green tea bags here in the TR, perhaps I’ll try to remedy that today. I’ve been carting up green tea from the DH to resupply the stock here but there’s a pre-aspirant whose job it is to tend to the TR so I think I’ll chat with him about it, to acquire a more stable supply. What we do have in here like gangbusters is hot chocolate. 7 boxes to be exact (I just checked).

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Peace of mind (my own definition): the feeling one receives as a result of being in close communion and at ease with one’s environment.

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2:54pm (roomside)

A warm and sunny morning has turned into a nice cool and cloudy afternoon. I sat on my own in the Small Hall and did stick exercises before breakfast with the bamboo pole Mike cut to size for me. For work meditation, our mulch team was reassembled with its original cast plus two more. It was our biggest crew yet. The Circle Garden with its fresh coating of mulch is looking really nice. It’s satisfying work. One of our crew mates even spotted a super neat skink today while we were spreading mulch. It had a bright blue tail, which is what drew his attention to it.

It’s Friday, which means it’s an arrival day. Three lay-friends departed from here in Solidity and I overheard a Brother at our work meeting circle say we were getting 9 new lay friends arriving today. An organized retreat starts next week on Wednesday. The Earth Holder retreat. So the folks arriving today are staff for the retreat. And by “staff” I mean that they’re here to help assist with the programming. I believe how it works is that folks can register to staff a retreat and then if they’re accepted they get to attend for free. But they don’t get paid and they also have to pay their way to get here.

Arrival day is always a little sticky for me. I’m sure it is for all of us here, especially the monastics, as of course they live here and routinely go through these energetic mix ups of people coming and going. Given that the folks arriving are staff, though, means they’re experienced practitioners and not brand new folks to the practice and I’m sure that will make a noticeable difference. And our most challenging layperson –  who I’ve often referred to as the talker – has left today. He was challenging for many reasons, talking was simply the biggest one. I don’t mind telling you that I am relieved. I’m sure most/all of us are. I sincerely wish him well. I hope he finds what he is looking for.

We have sitting meditation and sutra service at 5pm, followed by dinner at 6pm.

Perhaps I’ll go wander up to the stupa.

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Deer Park, Day 13

A bit of impromptu found-item Nicole art at DP

Thursday February 20th, 2020
Day 13

Warm sunbeam sitting
Belly full body rested
Birds singing in praise

Nearing 5am (tearoom)

If we’re not interested in life and in people, there’s little hope and chance for developing the sort of happiness that isn’t dependent on external graspings. If we’re not interested in life; captivated; intrigued, it’ll be a rough go. If we’ve already got it all figured out that life sucks, people are stupid, and the world is doomed, no new information can come in to change our experience. Without interest, we are stuck with our current mental landscape, and the chances are good that it’s pretty brutal in there. Interest, curiosity, openness, and inquiry are all needed in order to grow and transform. Rigidity is a death sentence for making spiritual progress. Rigidity shows itself in the form of standing in our own way.

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8:34am (Big Hall)

Lone sitting in the BH. Basking in a sun ray. Savoring, savoring.

This hall creaks and cracks and stirs, if you take notice. Perpetually shifting and settling into itself, just like the rest of us.

My body is doing surprisingly well for having slept part of the night on the hard tile floor of our room with only a sleeping bag for padding and cover. Mike got in late from the kitchen tile repair, around 11 or midnight, as I recall. I had left the bathroom light/fan combo on so as to muffle the sounds of my humming neighbor on the other side of the wall so I could fall asleep. When Mike came in, I woke up just enough to be unable to fall back asleep, on account of someone snoring on the other side of the wall. To remedy the situation and get back to sleep, I figured I had two options: pop into the vacant room next door or lie on our floor with my head as far away from the snorer as possible. Directing my head away from the shared wall wasn’t enough though. I had to situate myself so that my head was practically nested inside the bathroom door with the fan on (which meant the light was also on). It wasn’t ideal but it worked. I’m rather like the princess and the pea when it comes to my sleep environment. I’m a light sleeper and wake easy. Usually, if there’s a hint of light or a small sound, I’m up. Fortunately though, I’m not so princess and the pea that I couldn’t sleep on the tile floor with my head inside a bathroom with the fan running, so there’s that.

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12:38pm (roomside)

Before I lay down for my nap, I want to capture this while it’s fresh. My walk from Clarity Hamlet just now, was educational. I experienced in action how effort-filled walking is more taxing and laborious when I focused on how much further I still had to go. I am so incredibly tired and ready to nap and the walk up the steep incline back to my room felt a hundred miles away. Every time I looked ahead at how much further I had to go, I was exerting more mental energy and each step felt heavier and heavier. But when I stopped focusing on the distance left ahead or the steepness of the set of stairs I was traversing; when I simply focused my attention down on the ground, on each step one at a time, the heaviness and fatigue were greatly reduced. It became effortless walking instead of effort-filled walking. I vacillated back and forth between these two for most of the way. Tiredness and weariness weakens my resolve and ability to concentrate my practice energy, so I kept sweeping back into effort-filled walking. But then I would take notice and swing myself back into effortless walking for a spell. By the time I was in the homestretch – the last steep hill to traverse from the Dining Hall to the next tier up where our room is – I was walking as a free person.

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