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Tag Archives: Be Here Now

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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Diversity Trainings

The Seven Trainings in Diversity
Written by Larry Yang in “Friends on the Path”, by Thich Nhat Hanh, compiled by Jack Lawlor, published in 2002.

Intro:

The practice of these trainings is an opportunity to begin the journey towards narrowing the experience of separation. As humans, we all participate in the harmful behaviors that these trainings are addressing. We all have been the perpetrator and victim, at one time or another. These trainings are for all of us, not just for any particular group or community.

The Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings of Thich Nhat Hanh were an invaluable inspiration and nourishment of these trainings in diversity. Thich Nhat Hanh has written: “Many of today’s problems did not exist at the time of the Buddha. Therefore, we have to look deeply together in order to develop the insights that will help us and our children find better ways to live wholesome, happy, and healing lives.” This encouragement and suggestion becomes especially important with issues of diversity.

The invitation offered is to begin by transforming a piece of oppression, rather than being intimidated by the vastness of its suffering. The concept of “practice” presents itself as an incremental and cumulative process. The practice of diversity is also such a process. The hope is that this process can invite us into taking important steps in transforming our experience with oppression in deep and meaningful way.

(This intro was shortened from one that Larry Yang wrote himself)

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1. Aware of the suffering caused by imposing one’s own opinions or cultural beliefs upon another human being, I undertake the training to refrain from forcing others, in any way – through authority, threat, financial incentive, or indoctrination – to adopt my own belief system. I commit to respecting every human being’s right to be different, while working towards the elimination of sufferings of all beings.

2. Aware of the suffering caused by invalidating or denying another person’s experience, I undertake the trainings to refrain from making assumptions or judging harshly any beliefs and attitudes that are different or not understandable from my own. I commit to being open minded and accepting of other points of view, and I commit to meeting each perceived difference in another person with kindness, respect, and a willingness to learn more about their worldview.

3. Aware of the suffering caused by the violence of treating someone as inferior or superior to one’s own self, I undertake the training to refrain from diminishing or idealizing the work, integrity, and happiness of any human being. Recognizing that my true nature is not separate from others, I commit to teaching each person that comes into my consciousness with the same loving kindness, care, and equanimity that I would bestow upon a beloved benefactor or dear friend.

4. Aware of the suffering caused by intentional or unintentional acts of rejection, exclusion, avoidance, or indifference towards people who are culturally, physically, sexually, or economically different from me, I undertake the training to refrain from isolating myself to people of similar backgrounds as myself and from being only with people who make me feel comfortable. I commit to searching out ways to diversify my relationships and increase my sensitivity towards people of different cultures, ethnicities, sexual orientations, ages, physical abilities, genders, and economic means.

5. Aware of the suffering caused by the often unseen nature of privilege, and the ability of privilege to benefit a select population over others, I undertake the training to refrain from exploiting any person or group, in any way including economically, sexually, intellectually, or culturally. I commit to examine with wisdom and clear comprehension the ways that I have privilege in order to determine skillful ways of using privilege for the benefit of all beings, and I commit to the practice of generosity in all aspects of my life and towards all human beings, regardless of cultural, ethnic, racial, sexual age, physical, or economic differences.

6. Aware of the suffering caused to myself and others by fear and anger during conflict or disagreement, I undertake the training to refrain from reacting defensively, using harmful speech because I feel injured, or using language or cognitive argument to justify my sense of rightness. I commit to communicate and express myself mindfully, speaking truthfully from my heart with patience and compassion. I commit to practice genuine and deep listening to all sides of a dispute, and to remain in contact with my highest intentions of recognizing the Buddha nature within all beings.

7. Aware of the suffering caused by the ignorance of misinformation and the lack of information that aggravate fixed views, stereotypes, the stigmatizing of a human being as ‘other’, and the marginalization of cultural groups, I undertake the training to educate myself about other cultural attitudes, worldviews, ethnic traditions, and life experiences outside of my own. I commit to be curious with humility and openness, to recognize with compassion the experience of suffering in all beings, and to practice sympathetic joy when encountering the many different cultural expressions of happiness and celebration around the world.

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Back to the Basics: Why Mindfulness Matters

mindfulness-practices-page-001Handout I created to accompany my talk

Preparation for a teaching talk I gave last night at my local sangha, Be Here Now, entitled: Back to the Basics, Why Mindfulness Matters:

To listen to the audio file of the actual talk I gave last night: http://www.openway.org/content/back-basics-why-mindfulness-matters-nicole-dunn

Rather than waiting until the end of this talk to offer my solidifying words of summary, of which I hope will be of service and value, I’d like to start off with them instead: Mindfulness matters because life matters. We have only this one life span of 20 or 30 or 50 or 70 or 90 years. If we do not cultivate mindfulness, it is easy for our lives to pass by very quickly – for our lives to be full of suffering, anger, sorrow, and envy. It is easy for us to take our lives for granted, to be unfulfilled and unsatisfied. Without mindfulness, it is easy to spend our whole lives caught in the past and/or consumed by the future. Mindfulness is the friend that shows us that another way of living is possible.

To help illustrate this, I’d like to share my first experience with mindfulness in an applied context – my first practical encounter that wasn’t based in intellectual knowledge or theory. (In order to shorthand it, the version of this story, which I’m including here, is taken from the book I’ve written and am working on getting published.)

My first real-life experience of what the heck mindfulness was came in early 2002. I was 22-years old and my husband, Mike, and I had started attending a meditation group in the tradition of Zen Master, Thich Nhat Hanh. At the time, we were living on the East Coast in the suburbs of Philadelphia, where I was born and raised. We were trying to save money in order to move back to Missoula, Montana, where Mike grew up and he and I met and married. I was working for a preschool and after school program and Mike was working at U-Haul. Between us, we shared one vehicle: our trusty, old Ford Econoline van, affectionately named Humphrey. (We lived in Humphrey for a year after we got married and he took us faithfully on the long and lovely road up to Alaska and back). Mike would drop me off at work; I would walk to the library down the road when I was finished; and Mike would pick me up there when he was done with his shift. On one particular day, I went to the library to wait for Mike after work, as usual. I was really looking forward to meditation that night. Although we had only been attending the weekly group for a short time, I quickly took to it and found it refreshing and grounding in ways I could not, at the time, fully understand.

After ten minutes of standing outside the library and waiting for Mike, I began to wonder what time it was, so I went back into the library to check. (It’s important to mention that my idea of arriving on time to anything means getting there about ten minutes early). Once I saw the clock, I began to get a little irritated. I didn’t want to be late to meditation. I went back outside and anxiously scanned the road for any sign of Humphrey. After ten more minutes, I went to check the time again and then proceeded to get very impatient; elevating from irritated to frustrated. I stomped back outside and paced back and forth along the sidewalk, thinking to myself: Where the hell is he? We’re going to be late! Another ten minutes went by and back in I went, to check the time, as if that would somehow help matters. After my third venture inside, my irritation, which had turned to frustration, grew to anger. I was pissed off! I stormed back outside muttered profanities to myself as I paced rapidly and kept a militant eye on the road. We were going to be late to meditation for sure!!!

In the midst of my internal fuming and cursing, I sat down on a bench. In exasperation, I exhaled heavily and slumped against the wooden slats, my head tilted back, face pointing upwards to the sky. In a seemingly cliché moment, I received a message, as though it were etched in the clouds overhead. The words thundered down: Just enjoy me. Those words resonated inside of me, loud and gentle and clear. The present moment had sent me a message. In that instant, I became aware of how embittered I had become while waiting; how tense my body and mind were. I was aware of how futile all of my pacing and checking of the time and angry mutterings really were – and, though it seems painfully clear to me now, I realized just then, that my ranting and raving wasn’t going to make him arrive any sooner. During my 20-minute escalation, I had no idea how stressed out and irrational I had become. With the words, just enjoy me, the light of mindfulness shone through my thick fog of anger.

I got up from the bench and suddenly realized what a beautiful spring day it was. The sky was magnificently blue and the afternoon sun was warm and welcoming. I did some slow walking meditation and admired the budding trees and green grass. I shifted my gaze, from anxiously watching the road, to my immediate surroundings and I practiced getting in touch with my breathing. When I calmed down, I was then able to look more deeply into why my husband might be late. I mean, it was unlikely that he chose not to pick me up on time. I saw clearly that he was probably helping a customer and was unable to leave on time. I stopped waiting for my husband to arrive and instead practiced enjoying the day. That made all the difference. The time I had spent waiting felt like an agonizing eternity (not to mention exhausting), even though it was only about 20-30 minutes, while the same amount of time I spent enjoying was refreshing, energizing, and liberating.

When he did finally arrive, much too late to go to meditation, I greeted him with a smile and said, “Thank you for being late.” And I truly meant it. I was very aware, in that moment, that had I not had the transformation I did, my first words to him would’ve been very, very different and the evening would’ve been ruined because of my anger-fueled words and actions. It was my first practical encounter with the power of mindfulness and I was so very grateful for the real-world translation.

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