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Masks

Last night, I attended our First Friday art walk downtown, where a plethora of coffee shops, stores, and offices host showings of local artists work, which takes place on the first Friday of every month. One installment especially stood out to me at the Dana Gallery, where a series of masks were on display that had been made by young people of all ages residing at the Watson’s Children’s Shelter here in town. Accompanying each mask was a one-line description and the age and gender of the person who’d crafted it. Here are the ones I jotted down on location:

“My masks show that people only see part of who I really am. If people saw all of me they wouldn’t want to be friends with me.”         13-year-old girl

“My mask is a unicorn, crying rainbows.” 9-year-old girl

“My mask is wearing a mask. It says you can’t trust people even if they say you can.” 14-year-old boy

“My mask is crying rainbows because I’m supposed to be happy, but I’m sad.” 4-year-old boy

“My mask only covers my eyes. I don’t think people should cover up who they are.” 12-year-old girl

“My mask is a superhero. I wish I had superhero powers so I could protect people.” 10-year-old boy

“I don’t want to talk about my mask.” 3-year-old girl

“My mask has blood on it. And the black is meth and drugs.” 9-year-old boy

I thought the premise of these masks paired well with a meme I came across yesterday on twitter (pictured above).

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Transitions

I’ve been investing intentional practice around the fact that my stepson is growing older and will soon be “out there,” left to his own devices, since even before he entered high school, so as not to not experience what I’ve heard so many parents of senior-year students speak to, in terms of being caught off guard and full of sorrow that their kids were all grown up and moving out. It seemed to me a rather implausible reality that a parent should feel so suddenly disjointed at the prospect of their child reaching a certain young-adult maturity level, as though they somehow didn’t see it coming all the years of their youth and moving out to start a life of their own wasn’t part of the deal.

But now I sorta get it.

Despite all my efforts to look deeply into the nature of impermanence and work to develop my practice in the art of letting go, just the other day I suddenly realized that my husband and I’s time with my 18-year old stepson is incredibly short. I did the math. Given how our residential schedule is lined out in our parenting plan – a schedule we’ve up-held diligently since he was at the tail end of first grade – we have a total of three remaining weeks with him until he graduates from high school, at which point he will be choosing to live full time with his mom and stepdad.

Just this morning I came across a lovely quote from Jack Kornfield on twitter, which states: To let go does not mean to get rid of. To let go means to let be. When we let be with compassion, things come and go on their own.

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Posted by on March 23, 2018 in Everyday Practice

 

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Mindful Speech on Social Media

My husband Mike and I just finished watching the documentary Jim & Andy, the Great Beyond about Jim Carrey’s role in Man on the Moon, where he played the comedian Andy Kaufman. It was so fantastic and Buddhist inspired that we googled the phrase: Is Jim Carrey a Buddhist. In doing so, we came across this article – on the nature of being human, having, and then healing, from depression, and letting go of our ideas of self – with accompanying short video, which was so lovely and inspiring that I wanted to share it (I would also super recommend watching the doc mentioned above): https://www.elephantjournal.com/2017/11/jim-carrey-explains-depression-in-the-best-way-ive-ever-heard/

In my zeal to want to support people in helping to reduce the collective and crippling stigma around matters concerning mental illness, I posted the above quote and link on our Be Here Now Community facebook page. While we have a fairly hefty following, considering we’re a small Montana-based mindfulness group, which clocks in at over 6,700 page likes, we don’t often get many comments on our posts, which I tend to fashion on the daily. But within short order, this particular post received this comment:

If I was as ignorant as this moron I would be depressed too!

Hmm. Welp. What is the most skillful action to take here, I pondered? The options seemed pretty clear. I could either leave the comment and do nothing. I could erase the comment. Or I could fashion a response, knowing that my reply, while written to the commenter, would be more intended to reach our followers and perhaps serve as a teaching moment in regards to how to respond with mindful, loving speech to hater-types on social media. Upon consulting with my husband, we quickly decided that erasing it, while easy to do, would be squelching the potential for dialog, and potentially keep people from feeling as though our community is a place where they can be heard and accepted, regardless of their views and whether or not we all agree with one another (which is an unrealistic impossibility anyway!). Simply leaving it untended to seemed to be the least skillful action to take – so crafting a response it was!

Here’s what I said in reply:

Hello _(insert person’s name here)__, while this is not typically the sort of comment we like to support, as skillful and loving speech is something we put great value on as a practice, every one is very much entitled to their own opinions, so we’d prefer not to simply erase it. On behalf of our community, with all due respect – truly – our views and ideas of others are incomplete and pitted with misunderstandings. We cannot presume to know anyone well, even those who are closest to us, as we see them through the lenses of our own experiences. May your day and night be well and to your liking. With Care, Nicole Dunn, Be Here Now program director.

NOTE: I originally signed the post as Be Here Now Community, in the interest of wanting to protect myself a bit from being potentially receiving personal backlash, but I quickly edited it and put my name instead, as it felt cleaner and more true to who I am as someone who puts great importance on showing up as authentically as possible.

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Living A Better Life

The Buddha said: If we keep death in front of us, if we are aware of it, we will live better lives.

Last fall, in preparation for a session of walking meditation that our sangha hosted at a local cemetery, I fashioned together a card-sized collage of pictures of friends and family members who’ve passed away, whether recently or many years ago. I continue to use this collage card as a bookmark in my spiral-bound notebook journal, which I write personal account entries in a few times a month. Encountering this bookmark of collaged pictures affords me the ability to practice staying in touch with the preciousness of life, by keeping death in front of me.

At the time of putting the collage together, I also saw fit to include three people who were still alive but nearing the end of their currently held life-cycle: my grandmother Claire, who’s since passed away, and my grandmother Mary and teacher Thich Nhat Hanh, who are both still very much alive. I included these individuals as a practice of deepening my sense of gratitude and also further developing my ever-growing understanding of impermanence.

It’s easy to think that calling to mind our loved ones that have passed away will be too painful. It’s easy to avoid connecting with the memories of our dearly departed friends and family members and to occupy our minds with a cascade of other matters. But when we develop a way to actively practice staying in relationship with those who’ve passed away – with the nature and reality of death itself – the initial pain that will likely crop up for us will have the opportunity to become transformed into a furthering opening of the heart.

At first, and for a little while, it was uncomfortable for me to look at the collage card I put together. To connect with the images and memories of so many loved ones who’ve passed away was rather startling and unsettling. But, once again, everything takes practice. Truly. Now that I’ve been encountering this card – one side collage and one side a picture of my friends David and Alison from their joint memorial service last summer – on a regular, ongoing basis, I’m finding that the discomfort has largely dissipated.

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Lion’s Roar

Each of us is sifting in a myriad of personality traits and qualities of being.
Hold each one,
however contrasting they may seem to be.
Do not pick and choose which ones
to present to the people.
Do not hide or squelch or push away
those parts you wish were other than as they are.
Hiding does you no good, my dear.
Step into the light.
Step into it all the way.
Do not tow behind you pieces which stay
in the shadows of shame.
Bring fully of yourself to the glory of being human,
from the fluidity of liquids to the hardness of bones.

Life is short and ever-changing.

Absorb these truths like the most fragrant words
offered by your most beloved.
Let them give rise to freedom.

 
 

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Direction for the People

Direction For the People

Sweet people, please listen.
Now is the time to get out of your own way.
To stop holding yourself back, reducing your worth as though you were somehow not enough.

Now is the time to stake claim to the powers invested and bestowed to you – the powers you’ve intentionally unacquainted yourself with: ease and joy and all-encompassing kindness.

There is no merit in hiding in the tiny box of self.

Emerge just as you are,
without footnotes indicating where the exceptions, carefully constructed excuses, and exclusions lie.
Now is the time to un-glue yourself from your own pockets of thought, where self is all that matters.
Now is the time to bust open wide your heart and your mind to include all beings both near and far away.

Continue to care well for yourself – YES! –
but do not stop there.

Tend to the matters of your dwelling place only so much that it propels you to help and assist and spread love to others.
Now is the time when individualism must give way to inclusiveness.
We are being called to action.
We do not – and cannot – exist by ourselves alone.

 
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Posted by on February 23, 2018 in Creative Writing

 

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On Mufflers

Prior to last Thursday, it’d been about 4 years or so that my ride: a ’94 Subaru Legacy, sounded akin to a small jet engine prop plane, due to a rusted out muffler. The fortitude of the car was such that when, alas, I pulled over upon getting off the interstate in town, directly following our local spring retreat back in April, to find my muffler adangle on the asphalt, I had to wrench and claw at the dang-blasted thing for 20-minutes to pry off what remained of it. And even then, I was only able to get about 80% of it off. I wound up having to send out the bat signal to Mike, so he could swoop in as the roadside cape-crusader and wrestle out the last 20%, which was both greatly appreciated and a large disappointment, given the fact that I really wanted to be victorious on my own accord.

I found it entertaining that the noise emanating from my car, pre muffler falling off, sounded absolutely no different than it did once it was gone. But, as I’d both gotten used to the rumbling and have a policy of not putting any money into the car that isn’t crucial to its functioning – given that at 337,000 miles, any day could be its last – the fact that everyone could hear my car in a 2-block radius didn’t really bother me. Besides, I mostly fly solo in my car and my love for loud music tended to drown out the ruckus. The only times I really noticed and was off-put by the muffler’s cacophony was when I’d have passengers riding along with me, as holding a conversation meant upping the volume of your voice, in regards to someone riding shotgun – and was pretty much a total lost cause all together if you were kickin it in the backseat – or when I’d start my car early in the morning or come home late at night: sorry neighbors!

Perhaps if I’d ridden in my own backseat more often, I would’ve been propelled to get a new muffler 4 years ago. A couple of weeks ago, I rode in the backseat from Spokane back to Missoula, to afford the dynamic duo: my husband and 18-year-old stepson, the chance to chat about all the things they wonderfully love to geek out on together, and I have little interest in, such as: science fiction related audio books, gaming, dark TV shows, politics, and, most recently, the art of magic, and was able to marinate in my car’s muffler musings on a much more intimate level. When we got home, the first thing I said when we walked in the door was: I think it’s time to get a new muffler.

So, last Thursday, I was the first appointment of the day at a place called the Muffler Bandit. I was told it would take about an hour, so I brought along a book and supplies in which to fashion a letter to my friend Daniel, who’s incarcerated at Montana State Prison. But perhaps because it was only 8:00am and things were still pretty quiet around town and in the shop, or perhaps it was due to the fact that there was nothing for the mechanic to take off of the car, my Sube was saddled up with a shiny new muffler in just 20 minutes. My car was serviced in such a short amount of time that I was even a little sad to have to vacate the premises, as I was just getting into the flow of writing my letter to Daniel. It also happens that I thoroughly enjoy writing in new and exotic places and I’d never had the chance to write in a muffler shop before (see pic above). But, I reluctantly packed up, paid my $160, and headed out. When the mechanic gave me the keys, I delighted in how he framed my new quiet vehicular stead. He said: Now you’re back in stealth mode. His declaration reminding me both of my secret longing to be a ninja and the time my stepson and I got busted trying to pull a prank on my friend Jennifer at 11:00 at night, last winter. We had parked 2-3 blocks away from her house, on account of my car’s loud rumbling, but it wasn’t the trademark sound of my car that tipped her off to our shenanigans. It was the fact that we managed to time our hi-jinks with the same time she was cruising home from the grocery store – which taught me, for future reference, that she seldom parks her car in the back by the garage.

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Posted by on December 19, 2017 in Everyday Practice

 

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