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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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Sometimes, Things are Just Hard

It’s easy to sometimes regard the practice of mindfulness and/or meditation as being some kind of magical elixir (especially by new practitioners), as though we could (and should) use them to cure us of our woes and ailments – that somehow if we are mindful enough and meditate enough, we’ll be able to fix whatever it is we feel needs fixing. But, the truth is, sometimes, things are just hard. Having a mindfulness practice and sitting in meditation can strengthen our ability to stay present, balanced, and well-grounded in our own experience of whatever is unfolding – which can be invaluably beneficial – but, in the end, neither mindfulness or meditation can alleviate the causes and conditions of struggle, pain, sorrow, and so on. Our relationship with life can change, but life itself will always entail a certain degree of suffering, difficulty, challenge, and heartache.

What I’m trying to highlight here, is that it’s important not to use the practices of mindfulness and meditation to form some kind of emotional smoke-screen to hide or otherwise distort the simple and very real truth that sometimes life is just hard. And, in my experience, there is a strange and great relief in coming to this understanding. There is a powerful release in being able to simply state, with clear intent, that things are just hard sometimes – without trying to explain further or apologize or rationalize or sugar-coat something for someone else’s perceived benefit. Sometimes, things are just hard. End of sentence.

I recently watched a TED talk given by Susan Kaiser Greenland on the ABC’s of Attention, Balance, and Compassion. In her talk she stated that mindfulness isn’t about changing or fixing, it’s about understanding and being aware. And on one of her slides, it stated: Wisdom comes not from being perfect but from being present. I think we can get carried away and swept up in the false notion of perfection when it comes to a lot of things. But perfection is a relative construct – and I would go so far as to call it a farce.

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Middle Way

A few days ago I received a message on Facebook, notifying me that a friend of mine had mentioned me in a comment. When I clicked through, to find out what it was regarding, I read the following post, from a local wilderness group:

With warmer weather already here, or just around the corner, this is a good reminder from Friends of Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

“Some people stack rocks…as a form of meditation. Some do it and call it art. More often than not, it makes for a neat Instagram picture and is never thought of again.

But what you may not realize is that stacking river rocks is doing serious damage to the delicate river ecosystem. And it’s not just cairns, the same goes for moving rocks and creating dams to make chutes or pools in a stream for tubing. Aquatic plants and animals make their homes on, under, and around these rocks. Some of the 68 species of fish in the park build their nests in small cavities under rocks. When people move the rocks, the nest is destroyed and the eggs and young fish die.”

#KeepItWild

My friend, knowing of my love for building cairns, then commented on this post with: Nicole Dunn uh-oh!

For a few minutes I thought about whether it would be worth my replying to her comment, or if it was better to simply let it go and not say anything. I decided I did want to voice my opinion, so here’s what I posted in response:

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Many Hats

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Sparked by my last post about busyness I started thinking about the many different hats I wear.  I went online to search out an image to use to accompany this post and found that most of what came up when I typed in “many hats images” were pictures of stressed out, confused, upset, or otherwise saddened faces sporting a myriad of different hats atop their head.  Since that wasn’t the look I was going for I made my own (see above, ta da!).  The act of wearing many different hats is akin to the nature of busyness in that it doesn’t have to induce a negative state of being, unless we choose to relate to it that way.  There is a way to accept and embrace a so-called busy life and the wearing of different hats as simply part of what it means to be human and alive.

Much of the strife we have is self-created and occurs when we’re fighting against something that’s happening rather than learning how to go with the flow of what’s unfolding.  We spend a lot of time getting tripped up in the thinking that certain things aren’t supposed to be happening and are interruptions to our carefully laid out plans.  The thing is, however, that everything that has ever and will ever happen is part of life inherently – simply because, well, it’s happening.

I like to think of the many hats that I wear to be a joyful undertaking.  I like to think of how wonderful it is that I am afforded the opportunities, abilities, time, energy, and motivation to do all of the things that I do.  I don’t see it as a burden to wear the hats I wear, I see it as a privilege and honor.  The more hats I get to wear the greater potential I have to connect with a variety of people, places, experiences, ideas, and influences.  The more situations I interact with the more possibilities I have to strengthen and deepen my mindfulness practice.  Please understand, I’m not saying everyone should wear as many hats as they can or that it’s not possible to buckle under the weight of taking too much on – there’s certainly a balance to find here and it will be different for each and every one of us.

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Posted by on October 26, 2015 in Everyday Practice

 

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