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Tag Archives: Be Here Now

Interfaith Work & Sangha Building

I’m currently reaching maximum saturation levels in terms of my usage of time spent on writing projects, events planning, managing meetings and gatherings, and attending a variety of other functions. I’m in the boat right now of practicing to say no when it comes to the question as to whether or not to take something else on – AND it’s going well, too, I might add.

Factoring into all the many lovely things I’ve chosen to do with my time is to: tell a story on stage at the Wilma Theater here in town on May 5th, as part of an interfaith concert and celebration event called Tangible Hope, submit an article to be considered for publication in the Mindfulness Bell for their sangha building issue (slated to come out in the fall), and write a short piece for the Community of Faith section in our local newspaper (for their May 12th edition).

Is interfaith work and sangha building different? Ultimately, no, I think not. When I look and engage through the lens of sangha building, I see clearly that sangha exists wherever I go. It’s all around me. Whether in the setting of my home sangha of Be Here Now or my larger Plum Village family, or my growing relationships and partnerships with local pastors and interfaith members as part of the Missoula Interfaith Collaborative (MIC), which I serve to represent our communities of Be Here Now and Open Way with, sangha is an action verb; it’s a quality of heartfulness that propels me in the direction of cultivating brotherhood and sisterhood.

From the story I plan on telling as part of the Tangible Hope concert event:

I remember a time a few years ago when I was standing in a long security line at the LAX airport – I had just spent a month on a retreat at a monastery in our tradition in southern CA, so I went from this beautiful, sequestered and quiet environment to a place that was decidedly quite different. As I was standing in the security line, I had the wonderful insight that I didn’t feel as though I had left a lovely setting with my extended sangha and was now tossed into a hectic and unpleasant environment with grumpy strangers; I had simply transitioned from one sangha to another: from my monastery sangha into my air traveling sangha! This insight allowed me to interact with the space and the people around me in a different way – a way that was more open, friendly, caring, and kind. So, when I look and operate through the lens of sangha I experience it wherever I go, all around me – I carry it with me and I actively create it.

If we are truly invested in building sangha – aka spiritual community – then we must practice to envelop it fully into our lives and not relegate it to just our own beloved circles consisting of those whom we share most closely and are most comfortable with. The true spirit of sangha building must be all inclusive; this is the only way we can serve as agents of change in the world and continue beautifully into the future.

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3:36am Revelation

 

I’ve found that revelations are something that need to happen over and over and over – and over and over again. They aren’t a one time deal. We like to think revelations are a one time deal – that all it takes is one moment of clarity or realization or spark of insight and huzzah!, we’ll forever enfold that particular tid bit into our consciousness and put it into active play in our lives forever more. But that is decidedly not how it works.

I woke up around 3am today, earlier than usual, though my usual has been on the shift ever since coming back from retreat at Deer Park Monastery in January. At 3:36am, I penned this in my journal:

I have the delightful challenge of being someone who loves to organize events and also someone who loves doing things around town in a variety of fashions. The challenging part comes from there only being so much time in the span of a day. And the challenge also comes from having to rein myself in from time to time – like, say, nowish for instance. I have a plethora of events, meetings, and scheduled items on my calendar from now through June – and each one is something I want to be doing with my time. But aye, there’s the rub! That’s how it happens: exhaustion, running over-heated from moment to moment. I’m also aware of how the ability to be fully present greatly aids in the endeavor of not running out of steam. I can expend A LOT of energy – needlessly – by keeping my to-do list operating in the backdrop of my mental landscape. So the more I am fully present with whatever it is I’m doing, the more energy I have to devote into being able to do the things I enjoy and having it be sustainable, verses depleting. Gosh I love writing, it allows me cut right to the chase of things!

My 3:36am revelation can be solidified in a quote I just came across yesterday on twitter:

Mindfulness gives you time. Time gives you choices. Choices, skillfully made, lead to freedom.

— Henepola Gunaratana

Developing the power of presence – uniting the mind and the body together; not getting lost in thoughts about the past or the future or worries in the present – allows us to preserve our energy and invest it in other more productive ways. Mindfulness, when practiced diligently, has the capacity to give us more time. It can teach us how to reallocate our energy so that we are continually re-fueling and nourishing ourselves amid the seas and swells of life’s happenings, instead of getting burnt out, stressed out, and overwhelmed.

I’m someone who talks to herself a lot throughout the day. I even give myself advice – and it’s usually really good advice too, by the way. Lately I’ve been reminding myself: Okay Nicole, now look. You have taken on a lot of stuff again. You should really slow your roll and stop agreeing to do stuff and saying yes to organizing and attending events. You have a lot coming up. And then I counter myself by saying: I know, I know. But…it’s all great stuff! There’s so much great stuff to do and stuff I want to do and…. And so it goes.

What I’m rediscovering though – re-revelating, if you will – is that while it’s true that I have a lot of plans and events and meetings and things I’m organizing and attending coming up, it’s actually not too much. While I’ve been feeling the pull of my schedule and judging it to be too much, it’s actually more a matter of my mental gears running in the background that’s making it seem like too much, when it reality it isn’t. It’s an “objects in mirror are closer than they appear” sort of scenario – only in the reverse.

We all have a wealth of stuff going on – that’s life. And it’s often not that we need to DO less, it’s that we need to practice THINKING less, PROCESSING less, WORRYING less, STRESSING less. Mindfulness can give us the tools we need to keep doing all the things we enjoy doing, all the things we choose to prioritize in our daily/weekly/monthly/yearly schedule by saving the mental energy we so uselessly expend on matters that are either outside of our influence or simply a complete and total waste of time. I can drain my energy battery hella quick simply by over-thinking about what I have coming up and all the things I need to do tomorrow and the next day and the next day.

So, my newly forming dialog with myself is looking something like this: Okay Nicole. You have a lot of great stuff coming up, isn’t that delightful?! But right now you’re ______ (fill in the blank: eating, driving, writing, sipping tea…), so how about you just be all in right where you are with what you’re doing. And then I’m all like: Good call, Nicole. Good call.

Be Here Now as a working life motto is not just about the physicality of your presence. Be Here Now means to be wherever you are mentally and emotionally, too. It means to be all in with your whole being. Whether I’m working on managing logistics for our upcoming spring family retreat at the end of the month, arranging a public talk for our visiting Dharma teacher, working on PR materials for my friend Jeff and I to land gigs together around town, working on an article or bit of writing for one thing or another, running a meeting, or attending a conference, the energy of mindfulness is one that can travel into any and all situations. And thank goodness for that!

Mindfulness helps me to keep my feet well-grounded. It helps me to generate the qualities of ease and joy and deep connection from moment to ever-changing moment. Mindfulness enables me to live a good life. And it reminds me, over and over and over again, to keep coming back to the very here and now – the only place life is truly available.

 

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Deer Park Wrap Up

Tonight at my local sangha, Be Here Now, Mike and I, and a few of our sangha friends who recently spent time on retreat at Deer Park, will be offering a Deer Park (DP) retreat sharing panel as part of our format. There will be 5 of us on the panel and we’ll each share for 5 minutes or so about whatever is alive in our heart and our practice in regards to our time at DP. I plan on starting with a short intro and background about DP and then after the panel we’ll open up for Q & A. If there’s time, I also plan on showing a 10-minute DP video montage I put together from footage I took in January during our 3-week stay. And if there’s not time, then it’ll be an addendum after we close the group, for those wanting to stick around to watch it. I’m looking forward to this evening and hearing from my other friends about their retreat stay!

Here’s what I plan on saying for my sharing:

The importance of sangha practice is not new to me but I did delve deeper into this insight when I was at DP this last time. Being in close contact and interaction with my sangha – whether it’s my local home sangha, larger statewide Montana sangha, or the community at DP – is not an additional component of my mindfulness practice, like adding parmesan cheese to the top of a bowl of pasta. Sangha practice is equivalent to the tomatoes needed to make the sauce. It’s a necessary and critical ingredient.

Despite how strong and diligent my practice is with peppering in a variety of mindfulness tools and exercises throughout the day, if I were to stop attending sangha and stop attending retreats, my practice would eventually fall off and take a nose dive. Sangha practice is not just something nice to sprinkle in to my life when I have time or when I’m really craving connection, sangha practice is the center of the wooden wheel, which all the spokes splay out from.

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This is it!?!

On Saturday morning, I watched the first 15-minutes of a talk by Sr. Thệ Nghiêm at Deer Park Monastery, given on September 15, 2017 (see Youtube link below). She spoke about something I’ve both experienced personally and spoken about in a talk I gave 3-4 years ago. At Deer Park Monastery, in southern California, behind the alter of orchids in the big meditation hall, sits a circular wooden sign that says: This is it. When I first encountered this calligraphy of Thay’s, I misunderstood its teaching and took it as a glib proclamation, as in: This is it, I guess. Whatever. Sigh.

As you likely imagine, this is not what it means. Back in the day, I knew I wasn’t viewing it as intended, I simply hadn’t developed my own insight about it’s intent just yet. Understanding unfolds over time, with practice in cultivating diligence and deep looking. Words/teachings can only take us so far. They can show us a new path to venture down, but we have to be the ones to move our feet and actualize the fruits of what it has to offer.

This is it is an invitation to look more deeply into every facet and fissure of our lives, really. To see life as ever-flowing, ever-changing, and ever-amazing. To understand the depths of This is it, means to see clearly that this moment – whatever moment we find ourselves amid – IS it, truly. This present moment is the foundation for the next present moment, and it’s up to us to sculpt it in the best way possible. To turn our lives into a living art form.

One of the main root teachings I receive nourishment of, by staying apprised of both local and world news, is in regards to the nature of life and death. In short: there are a lot of ways to live and there are a lot of ways to die. The more I learn and deepen my understanding of this truth – this nature of reality – the more it opens me to the preciousness of life, and the myriad of possibilities that exist.

This is it! is more than a teaching. It’s a way of living.

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On Self-Absorption

I’m realizing that one of the big components of living and developing a spiritual life is to continually train in the art of lessening our tendency to be self-absorbed. The less we feed and nurture our sense of self-importance, the more we are able to build a strong foundation for living a happy and contented life.

For the sake of attempting to avoid misunderstanding, it’s important to mention here that self-importance and self-absorption are not the same thing as being self-assured or having self-confidence. When we are self-absorbed we have a heightened sense of self-importance. When this happens, we have the tendency to be very self-conscious, thinking that others are always paying attention to us wherever we go. We have little awareness of how others are feeling or what’s going on for them in their lives – everything is about us and how things affect us. We tend to get caught up in our own busy affairs and have little time to extend ourselves to others. I’ve also found that highly self-absorbed people tend to be surrounded with constant drama – there seems to often be something of a dire nature happening that consumes all of their time and energy (the law of attraction at play). This quality of being frequently presents itself as victim-hood, as well. People who are self-absorbed are filled with people to blame for their situation and have very little ability to take responsibility for things – they experience a problem and know right away who to blame for its creation, but are unlikely to do anything about it themselves, other than complain and point out problems.

The more we come to understand that our life is not our own, the more we step into the interbeing nature of all that is. In my experience, living a spiritual life is a matter of learning how to care well for ourselves so that we are able to care well for others. It’s about making each aspect a priority in our lives: self-cultivation and care/support for others – time for ourselves and time for others, in an intentional and skillful way.

Here are some things I myself do that serve to help me lessen my own levels of self-absorption:

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Posted by on December 4, 2017 in Everyday Practice

 

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No Such Thing

“There is no such thing as an insignificant moment.” – Chan Dieu Hoa

 

 
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Posted by on October 24, 2017 in Everyday Practice

 

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You Are What You Think

This is me preparing for another teaching-style talk at my local sangha Be Here Now. So, while it may not be the most riveting post for you to read, my much-appreciated friends, it does offer me a great platform and outlet in which to figure out what it is I’d like to say – and I am reminded of the ending statement I recently heard from Hemingway’s acceptance speech from 1954 for winning the Nobel Prize: “…A writer should write what he has to say and not speak it.” Of course, my motivation lies in writing about it in order to speak about it, but I am nourished by this statement just the same.

I’ll also be giving this talk jointly with my husband Mike, which we’ve been doing once a year for the past 2-3 years. We’ve entitled it: You are what you think and we’ll be offering it on Monday night, October 23rd.

On an introductory note, for those of you sticking around to read this through :), the topic for this talk was spurred by coming to the realization of how a lack of self-acceptance is one of the largest obstacles on the path of healing, growth, transformation, and well-being. In having been attending a meditation group virtually every week for the past 15 years, where we have an open sharing circle built into our format, it’s become very clear to me just how much people give themselves a hard time about ALL kinds of things. But it’s only recently been an insight of mine that this is in fact one of the greatest roadblocks we face in regards to living more mindfully and skillfully, with more ease and balance.

My husband will be talking first, for about 20-minutes, and plans on focusing his segment on highlighting what a thought and a view are and what the differences are between them. The idea being that our long-held views are what shape our thoughts, and our thoughts are what fuel our words and actions. Most of us are not well in touch with what our views are – our deeply held beliefs that have shaped us and continue to shape us. A guiding quote for us is one from Thich Nhat Hanh:

Attachment to views is the greatest impediment to spiritual growth. – TNH

For my portion of the talk I plan on opening with a psychological exercise that I recently learned, which will prompt folks to get in touch with how they talk to themselves internally while in the process of doing it.

As for what I’ll say, here goes:

If it were as easy as just stopping giving ourselves a hard time we would’ve all done that by now. Most of us know when it is we’re being hard on ourselves or beating ourselves up over something. So just stopping this particular habit is most likely not a realistic thing to expect to have happen. And the reasons are 1. We’ve been practicing this internal dialog for probably our whole lives, so it’s deeply ingrained and thus will take time to transform and 2. Because when we get stuck in our intellect it keeps us from developing the necessary actions it takes to embody whatever it is we’re looking to work on in regards to our own growth and well-being. So just because we know something in our mind intellectually doesn’t mean it translates into an embodied experience, which is what’s necessary in order for us to progress on our path. Knowing is not enough – knowing is a critical first step, but we need to pair knowing with doing, in order for transformation and healing to take place.

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