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Simple Things

I want excitement
to be born from
simple things.

Like being presented
with another day
to live and breathe
and sing.

Or knowing how very fortunate
I am
to have all the
luxuries of life:
running water
ready access to food
electricity
shelter
and countless modern conveniences.

I want excitement
to not be hinged on
having to go someplace
or do something
or be someone
in particular.

I want excitement
to bubble up
from the deep cauldron
of my heart,
for the wondrous miracle to
be
here
now.

This is my aspiration;
my practice;
my winding path
through the thicket of collective hardships
and planetary throng of woes.

– penned today, July 10th, 2019, around 6am

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Beginner’s Guidance

Last week at our local sangha, affectionately named Be Here Now (BHN), we offered a beginner’s guide to the practice, as part of our regular evening’s format.

Here’s what our format was and what we covered:

  • Start: 7:30pm
  • Introduction to sitting meditation, 5-10 min (Nicole)
  • Guided sitting meditation, 10 min (Amy)
  • Intro to walking meditation, 2-3 min (Amy)
  • Walking meditation, 10 min
  • History of BHN & Introduction to our practice tradition, 5 min (Nicole)
  • Secular vs. spiritual practice, 5 min (Nicole)
  • Introduce and explain the usage of the Five and the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings, 5-10 min (Linds)
  • Intro to sharing circle (Nicole)
  • Open sharing circle
  • Closing circle
  • End: 8:45pm

My prep notes:

Introduction to Sitting Meditation:

To listen to the audio file of this first portion of our evening, please click here.

Here in a few minutes, Amy is going to lead us in a guided seated meditation session and offer us some instruction during our sit tonight – but before we do that, I’d like to offer a little bit of instruction on posture for sitting meditation. Here at BHN we like to emphasize physical comfort when we sit and we like to encourage folks to simply sit in any way they feel works for them. And while that is still the case, I’d like to offer some additional guidance for those of us who may be looking to delve more into the development of a sitting meditation practice. If we resonate with the practice of sitting meditation and really want to enfold it into our daily/weekly routine, posture is an important component to address. When we sit in meditation, it’s encouraged that we sit upright and solid but not “at attention.” So we’re looking to find that balance where we can be both upright and relaxed; not stiff or rigid or locked in place. To sit upright, we want to have three points of contact. If we’re sitting on a cushion, that means our sit bones on the zafu (round cushion) and both knees on the zabutan (square mat) – and if our knees don’t touch the mat, then we want to support them with other small pillows or blankets, as we don’t want our knees to hover. If we’re sitting in a chair, that means our sit bones on the chair and both feet flat on the floor – and we want to have our backs not leaning against the chairback. So in both cases, we want to sit on the front 1/3 of our cushion or chair, if we’re physically able. And of course if you need back support then please use it. It’s also important to mention that our cushions and chairs are sans inferiority/superiority complex, so they happily reside together in the sangha. There is no better or less better seating apparatus when it comes to cushions and chairs, they are on the same sitting field. So please don’t get caught in the false view that sitting on a cushion will usher you someplace that a chair cannot.

Our eyes can be open or closed and our hands can be relaxed in our lap or on our knees. If our eyes are closed, we want to try to relax all the muscles around each eye and in our face. If our eyes are open, we can keep our gaze pointing downward, about 2-3 feet in front of us. We want to try to keep our shoulders relaxed and not scrunched up and tight.

Developing proper posture when sitting in meditation supports us in a couple of key ways. When we sit upright, with both solidity and relaxation, it allows our belly to have the space it needs to fully expand and contract, which is necessary in order for us to breathe deeply from our diaphragm. This sort of posturing also helps us to start training the mind to quiet and settle down. It’s much easier to still the body than it is to still the mind. And in order to start working on stilling the mind, we need to cultivate some discipline and support in our physical body. If our body is too loose and too relaxed, our mind will have a much harder time in becoming settled and concentrated. If our posture is lazy, our mind will be lazy too. So we start in our body, developing good posture for meditation, and over time – slowly slowly – our mental chatter will start to settle down.

When we first start sitting in meditation, it’s very common to feel as though our mental chatter actually picks up when we sit down on the cushion. But really what’s happening is that we are creating enough stillness to put on conscious display how active our minds really are. So it’s not that our minds are becoming more active necessarily, it’s simply a matter of noticing it in a way that we’re not used to.

Our root teacher Thich Nhat Hanh (often referred to as Thay, which means teacher in Vietnamese) says that we must learn the correct spirit of sitting. In an interview with what was formally called Shambhala Sun magazine, Thay offered that sitting should be pleasant and that we must learn how to sit without fighting (January 2012). So when we sit, we practice to simply sit and enjoy our sitting 100%. To be gentle and kind with our self in body and mind. If we sit in such a way where it feels like hard, taxing labor, Thay goes so far as to say that we are wasting our time in meditation. He said: the problem isn’t whether to sit or not to sit, but how to sit.

So how do we sit? What are we doing when we’re in meditation? Well, to start, what we are NOT doing is trying to wrestle our mental chattering into submission. And if we have the goal of sitting without the presence of any mental chatter – if we think having zero thoughts is a thing – we’re in trouble, because that’s impossible. We’re human and mental chattering is part of the deal. What we’re looking to do instead during sitting meditation is to redirect our focus and attention onto something else other than the spinnings of our thoughts. So our practice is simple but not at all easy: it’s to notice when our mind is trailing off into the past or future and to gently, with kindness, invite it to reconnect with the sensations of our breathing or the sensations of our body and sensory experience. And when it wanders off again, which it will, we practice to notice and return again. Notice and return, notice and return. This is the practice of sitting meditation. It’s a mental training ground. And it takes practice. It takes ongoing, diligent, continual practice. Our mind is a muscle and the practice of sitting meditation is rather akin to going to the gym to strengthen our physical muscles.

So, now we will segway into practicing all of this together as a sangha (which means spiritual community in Buddhism), and Amy will offer us some guidance along the way.

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First Fire of the Year

It feels worth mentioning that last night, I had my first backyard fire of the year. And it also seems worth haikuing about:

Flames licking wood

Chilled air breathing fire

A smile is lit

Last weekend, I was off on a solo saunter up north – and I enjoyed every bit of my travels.

This weekend, I set myself up so that I had zero cause to leave the house if I didn’t want to – and I’ve been enjoying every bit of it.

 
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Posted by on April 7, 2019 in writer's life

 

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The Five Powers

Yesterday, I enjoyed a lovely Day of Mindfulness (DOM) with our sister Sangha Open Sky up north on the Flathead Lake, where snow, sun, and delightful people were in abundant supply. As part of our DOM, one of our local Dharma teachers, Greg Grallo, gave a talk on the Five Powers. As usual, I took a bunch of notes throughout his talk – and also as usual, I would like to share some of them here (along with some pics I took!) :)

In the back of the Plum Village Chanting and Recitation book, it includes this description in the glossary section:

Five Faculties: Faith, energy, mindfulness, concentration, and wisdom

Five Powers: Same as the Five Faculties, except that as powers they cannot be shaken by their opposites (e.g., energy cannot be swayed by laziness).

Notes I penned down during Greg’s Dharma talk:

Five Powers: faith, effort, mindfulness, concentration, insight

Faith: not a blind faith but one based on personal experience; to have faith in our own capacity to awaken; to trust in our practice and our sangha.

It’s good to ask ourselves from time to time: why do I practice? why do I go to sangha? why do I drive on snowy roads to attend days of mindfulness like this?

When our faith is strong, our effort is effortless. Effort that isn’t based on trying to do the practice “right” doesn’t wear us out, in fact it gives us energy. This kind of effort is based on generating good seeds and keeping good seeds alive and active, and also involves working to not water negative seeds.

There’s a difference between avoidance of suffering (based on fear) and changing the peg (my wording, not his) in order to water the seeds of joy in an effort to help care for and tend well to our suffering with more skill. Denial can be fear-based OR it can involve turning away from it with conscious participation, with the intention to return to it once we have more strength and balance.

Thay teaches that mindfulness is a pathway not a tool. Mindfulness as a path leads to the end of suffering. Mindfulness when used as a tool might be applied to acute stress but it isn’t addressing the underlying difficulties that exist; when used as a tool, our suffering will continue to resurface.

When our concentration is not strong, mindfulness can arise and then quickly dissipate. When our concentration is strong, it allows the other four powers to be strong.

The first four powers lead up to understanding/insight. And when we have insight, it gives us faith that our practice is working, so it loops back around.

When your faith is low, that is a wonderful time to go to sangha. Sangha practice encourages us to come back to the wheel of the Five Powers.

I penned this in my journal yesterday:

Like a sunflower’s face tracks the sun, my full attention falls in line with the sound of the bell.

I’m so very grateful for being part of this practice tradition and for having such regular and lovely opportunities to join together with my sangha family.

During our discussion group time yesterday, I shared my answer to the question Greg posed in his talk: Why do we drive on snowy roads to come here to sit and breathe? The short answer is that while I practice every day to water the positive seeds within myself – such as joy, ease, mindfulness, connection, friendliness, gratitude – that watering is more akin to a sprinkle here and a sprinkle there, as might be issued from a watering can, whereas attending days of mindfulness and retreats and showing up every week to sangha is like turning on the garden hose on those same seeds. Prioritizing my practice – which in this case equated to driving 2-hours north on winter roads to attend a Day of Mindfulness with my sangha family – is truly the best use of my time.

Just as a vegetable garden cannot be watered just one time and be expected to bear fruit, so too is the case for my internal seeds which bear the fruit of well-being. In order for beneficial seeds to continue growing and strengthening in our life, they need regular and ongoing tending to, which requires a good and thorough dousing from time to time :)

 

If you’re interested in listening to Greg’s talk:

 

 

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An Ushering Forward

December 2018

End of year letter of support & encouragement and an ushering in of 2019

offered by Nicole Dunn, BHN Founder & Program Director

 

The ticking of the clock is real, dear friends. The incessant chattering of time and the accompanying approach of growing older are a thing – a thing not to fear and run panic-stricken into the streets mind you, but a thing to keep closeful watch over, so as not to fritter our time away on trinkets of thought and harmful actions, in the interest of time being short and life being precious.

We are ripe with excuses to run, to hide, to distract our attention away from what is true and present and even good. We know what medicine we would do well to take yet we do not take it. We stand anchored in our own way, unable to move past our own barrier of self.

It is important to hold time in our peripheral vision; to know it is there like a friend reminding us to live and love well every chance we get. Still we mustn’t be beholden to it. We mustn’t listen to every tick, tick, ticking like a time bomb about to explode. We must allow it to inform our path forward without putting it in charge of dictating where we go. We must regard it as sunset or rise and greet it warmly with reverence, knowing we cannot hold onto it or make it last.

With a tender ushering, as though we were to sway a fragile bud to open, we can learn what it really means to Be Here Now, with all of the beauty and messiness that it entails.

We must learn and practice to live a non-fiction life – to let go of all that is not serving us well, largely: the notion that this moment should be some other moment. For our romantic partner to be some other partner – our job to be some other job – our bank account to be some other bank account – the landscape outside our window to be some other landscape – the weather (exterior or interior) to be some other weather – our hardship to be some other hardship.

As we embark upon the new year, let us stretch into our discomforts. Let us unfurl just a little bit, into those places we avoid like the plague. Let us dance wide in the joyful field of our heartspace, but not as though no one is watching. Dance wide as though everyone is dancing with you, because they are.

 

Breathing & Smiling,

Nicole Dunn

Chān Diêu Hoa,

True Wonderful Flower

 
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Posted by on December 24, 2018 in Be Here Now Sangha

 

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On Sovereignty

The definition on dictionary.com for the word sovereignty is as follows:

  • the quality or state of being sovereign, or of having supreme power or authority.
  • the status, dominion, power, or authority of a sovereign; royal rank or position; royalty.
  • supreme and independent power or authority in government as possessed or claimed by a state or community.

However, in regards to sovereignty as it pertains to a quality we can develop and strengthen in our daily life, which can help to bolster our mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being, this textbook definition is not so helpful.

For my purposes, I would define it as: the state of relaxing with solidity and ease, into all the parts of who we are.

My husband Mike and I are slated to give a joint talk at our meditation group, Be Here Now, tomorrow night. The title and topic of our talk is: cultivating sovereignty. Aware that this word is not common in our collective vernacular (here in the U.S anyway), we will start off by sharing each of our own working definitions that we’ve come up with. His is as follows: freedom and liberation from being governed by unskillful habit energies.

Sovereignty involves being able to carry our true home with us everywhere we go. While we will of course still experience difficult situations and the full gamut of human emotions, when the quality of sovereignty is strong within us, we will be able to maintain our calm and clear center, without getting uprooted by the winds that blow around us.

Sovereignty is akin to a tree. A tree trunk is upright, solid, and grounded (solidity). Its branches, however, go with the flow and bend in the wind and its leaves change, shed, and regrow with the turning of seasons (ease).

After offering my working definition, I plan on giving a couple of personal examples (see below) of how this quality has shown up for me in the last few months, to hopefully help give some context and illustrate how sovereignty can be a beneficial quality to invest our time and energy into. I mean, it’s all fine and well to teach about cultivating certain qualities and states of being, but I think it’s important to also speak to the why as well. Whether I want to speak about cultivating mindfulness, joy, a sitting meditation practice, sovereignty, or any other number of things, it’s good to offer at least a brief reference as to the potential benefits that watering these seeds can have on our everyday lives.

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All Is Well

To listen to this post being read on my podcast, instead of or in addition to reading it here, please follow this link: https://soundcloud.com/inmindfulmotion/all-is-well

There are some things I would never see fit to write, were it not for the simple fact that I rise early in the morning, when darkness still paints the sky.

Here are some examples, from this morning’s journal session:

It’s 4:12am, Saturday morning.
I awoke at 3:00 and did the should-I-shouldn’t-I dance till roundabout 3:45,
before the I-should won out.
As in: I’m awake, I should just get up.
I knew snow must’ve fallen overnight,
as soon as I stepped into the living room.
Despite the curtains having been drawn,
a brightness perfumed the air.

4:53am.
A light snow falls outside.
Tucked into the warmth of my home cocoon,
all is well.
Only the hum of the pilot light is audible.
Well, that and the gliding strokes of my pen over paper
as I write this.

Everything speaks a different language in sleep mode.

If you have a yearning to foster the sense that our world isn’t a junk show,
or that good people abound,
or that beauty is a thing that exists in every landscape we find ourselves amid,
practice bearing witness to the spell of early morning.
It might very well be the thing that rallies a new resounding melody within you,
in which to sway your heart and feet forward.

__________

The practice of Being Here Now does not disclude us from delving into the past or planning for the future. However, as mindfulness practitioners committed to our practice, we must develop a level of awareness in order to investigate the difference between what is skillful, helpful, and kind and what is serving to further exasperate feelings of attachment, turmoil, and disconnection. (Working analogy: We should only operate a time machine device if we know how to make proper use of all the controls and gadgetry. Otherwise, we risk getting stuck in the year 1985 without the benefit of hairspray and parachute pants.)

In short, we need to know how to visit the past and future without setting up shop there. To apply our mindfulness practice to working constructively with the past and future, we need to effectively use the tools that will bring us back to the here and now.

 
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Posted by on November 24, 2018 in writer's life

 

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