Letter of Support

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In light of hearing from so many who are struggling amid these times of political changes, I felt called to offer this letter, of which I hope will offer some support and benefit.

Dear friends along the path,

I know you suffer, and I am here for you.

I see that your anger and fear are rooted in a fierce compassion for others and out of a strong desire to do what you feel and know is right. As a mindfulness practitioner, the question is not whether or not to be angry, it’s about how we utilize our anger to influence our thoughts, speech, and actions. Is our anger motivating us to become more informed and involved with an open heart and sense of connection and compassion, or with an un-grounded, frantic sense of heaviness and despair? What seeds are we sowing in our wake?

Do you feel as though anger is not only an appropriate response but a necessary one, in order to affect change? I remember feeling this way when I was in my early 20’s. It took me a long while to reconcile my mindfulness practice with my deep-rooted feelings of anger, related to those I felt were responsible for both large and small acts of environmental degradation. Without anger, I queried, wouldn’t I then become complacent and ineffectual? Wasn’t anger a crucial motivator? As my foundation of mindfulness was being built and strengthened, I came to understand that the answer, to both questions, was: no.

There resides a middle path to follow. One that allows us to become involved with matters of injustice, human rights, and environmental advocacy work (just to name a few) while also choosing not to carry around and spread the heavy burden of anger everywhere we go. May our anger and upset start us on the path of active engagement with the world around us, and may we then learn how to transform that anger into mindfulness, concentration, and insight, so that our speech and actions will cause as little harm as possible as we move forward.

Anger isn’t necessarily a bad thing. However, if we’re not careful and attentive, it can easily overtake and overwhelm our lives, causing us to become embittered, cynical, miserable, difficult to be around, and mentally, emotionally, and physically exhausted. If we allow our seeds of anger to be nurtured, we will create a very hostile and unpleasant atmosphere within and around us.

Feel your anger, dear friends, experience it as it arises, without judgement or suppression – I would not suggest otherwise. But don’t stop there. Investigate it. Become inquisitive. Understand your internal landscape, so that your actions that carry forth will be well informed. Do not allow your anger to go unchecked. Do not allow your seeds of love, ease, equanimity, inclusiveness, and interconnection to go un-watered. The well-being of our family, community, country, society, and the world depends on our ability to embody and practice the tools that mindfulness affords us, especially in the midst of change, challenge, struggle, adversity, and fear.

With Love and Support,

Nicole Dunn

True Wonderful Flower

Order of Interbeing member, since 2007

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On Fear

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A week or so ago my husband Mike and I were discussing the topic of difficult emotions, in the context of our mindfulness practice. He mentioned being continually surprised by the common lack of mentioning fear, as one of the big prevailing emotions. Anger is referenced often, but seldom is fear spoken about. He posited that fear was, in fact, the root of all other difficult emotions. I agreed that anger, for instance, is not a root emotion, but a response to feelings of either hurt or fear. Most of what we feel arise as an emotion is rooted in another deeper layer of experience, often in our subconsciousness. But I never considered that fear may be what lies at the heart of all strong/challenging emotions. I took it as food for thought and have been chewing on it, so to speak, ever since.

When I first encountered the well-known quote by Marianne Williamson, “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure,” I didn’t connect with her words and quickly sloughed them off. But now, years later, I understand. While I don’t presume to know how often this is true for others, I do know that a couple of years ago I discovered her insight to be true for myself. During a month-long retreat at Deer Park Monastery, I came to realize that I had a strong tendency of holding myself back from shining, which is what I refer to as our capacity to emit a certain inherent radiance when acting with joy and confidence in who we are and what we’re doing. I realized that what sat at the root of my trepidation, was fear. Fear of ego, fear of offending others or making them feel uncomfortable, fear of growing apart from certain loved ones by outshining them. Fear of becoming powerful beyond measure.

Ever since this light bulb of self-realization turned on, I’ve been slowly transforming this fear, working to dissipate it into the clear waters of understanding, where freedom resides. I’m learning the difference between egoism and self-confidence, and how it’s easy to confuse and misinterpret them. I’m learning that in holding myself back from shining, I’m also holding myself back from connecting fully, with both myself and others. I’m learning that to not shine as brightly as I can is to perform a disservice to who I am. And I’m learning to let go of over care-taking for people, by trying to affirm responsibility for their reactions, feelings,  and experiences.

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I’m learning to embrace the abilities and talents that I possess and shine as brightly as I can. It’s an ongoing process that continues to unfold and deepen. The more time I invest in becoming good friends with myself the more I see clearly about how important it is to develop this relationship – to relinquish my fear and embrace who I am with inclusiveness and ease.

Imagine the possibilities if more of us were less afraid of shining our light, helping to usher others forward to claim their own strength and wisdom. We all have the capacity to be the ones we’ve been waiting for.

Aaargh!

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“Perhaps the biggest misconception is that mindfulness is all about being happy or calm. While happiness and stress reduction are common and quite pleasant side effects of learning to be in the present moment without wishing it away, they are not the same thing as mindfulness. Fundamentally, mindfulness is about becoming aware of and accepting whatever is happening, which at times may involve sitting with painful or difficult emotions until they pass, as they will. It is a highly pragmatic practice that teaches us to see others and ourselves clearly so that we can make the most skillful choice possible in any given situation.

– From Ready, Set, Breathe: Practicing Mindfulness with Your Children for Fewer Meltdowns and a More Peaceful Family by Carla Naumburg, PhD

Last Friday night my husband and I had plans to go to a friend’s house for dinner at 7:00pm. In an all too common fashion my husband caused us to run behind. Known for his tendency to begin shaving at just the time we are slated to leave the house, sure enough, at 6:45pm, I see him go to the hall closet to fetch the electric razor. I am not someone who runs late. My idea of arriving on time often involves getting places at least 10-15 minutes early. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I am never late but it’s a very rare occurrence – well, at least when I’m left to my own devices that is. When my husband and I go places together there’s a fairly good chance we won’t be on time. This is one of the areas he and I differ in. Over the years we’ve learned how to balance each other out a bit – I’ve relaxed my obsessiveness about punctuality and sometimes he mobilizes himself so that we can leave the house on time. And sometimes neither of those things happen and frustration ensues, like it did for me on Friday night.

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On Santa

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OK. So, you may be wondering where I plan on going with this post (me too, by the way). How will the topic of Santa get woven into the thread of mindfulness?  Well, honestly, I’m not really sure yet.  But I thought I’d just start typing and see what happens.

The other day I was reading our local news online and came across a story about the Parade of Lights, which happened here in town a couple of weeks ago and involved family friendly activities throughout the day, pictures with Santa, and a parade and tree lighting downtown in the evening.  The article mentioned how one of the daytime activities was for kids to write letters to Santa, hosted by a local downtown business.  It stated how last year the business collected around 300 letters before Christmas and then wrote back to each kid in response using a set template with certain areas left blank so they could be filled in with a personal touch and be individualized.

There was part of me that was proud of the local business for spending so much of their time and energy devoted to our community’s kiddos.  However, there was also part of me that was sitting there reading the article shaking my head back and forth in disgust at the deeply penetrating and pervasive lie that sweeps our nation this time every year about the existence of Santa.  In being a weekly blogger I’m often thinking of what to make my next blog post about and tuning into things with the mindset of how to tie it into the art of mindful living and write about it later on.  As soon as I read the article mentioning the letters to Santa I thought, “How can I turn my frustration about this whole societal Santa ordeal into a blog post?”  While I’ve mostly grown out of my ranting states of self-righteous infused monologues that prevailed when I was in my twenties I’m still holding onto this one rather tightly.  When I think about or read about the certain Christmas related fantastical myths of Santa Claus or flying reindeer or elves at the North Pole I feel this sense of anger well up within me.  But rather than going off on some long diatribe about the perpetuation of these myths and how I think it’s wrong to lie to our children about Santa I think instead I’ll keep with the nature of this blog and delve more deeply into my reaction.

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Hmmm….

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Last week during our meditation group as we were reading through our current book, One City, A Declaration of Interdependence by Ethan Nichtern, we read a passage that mentioned the quote in the above picture: If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention.  He went on to say:

“Anger contains a great deal of wisdom, especially the wisdom to know what is wrong, both within us and around us.  Anger is also the necessary inspirational fuel for changing any negative situation into a more positive one…Anger is what gets us off our asses and drives us toward transformative action…It can even be helpful to get angry at our own shortcomings if we can do it without falling into that bottomless crater of guilt and inadequacy…Like any power source, it can be deadly if not handled properly, and helpful if used skillfully.”

It gave me pause to hear some of these words spoken aloud during our reading time.  “Hmmm…” I thought to myself, “I’m not sure I entirely agree with ol’ Ethan here.”  I’m also not sure I agree with the above quote.  While I understand what it’s getting at  I’m not so sure that outrage is what’s required or should be sought after in regards to being faced with pervasive world issues, such as: poverty, war, injustice, violence, and so on.  I’m not so sure that awareness should be equated to “an act of wanton (done, shown or used) cruelty or violence” (as outrage is defined by dictionary.com).  And I’m fairly certain that anger is not, in fact, necessary in regards to changing something negative into something positive, as Ethan suggests.

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