A Difficult Week

Last week, I attended our local fall retreat up on the Flathead Lake. (This “peace is every step” pumpkin was a pic I took at said retreat.) Part of me wants to offer my typical post-retreat accounting here on this blog. But a bigger part of me has little interest in doing so. And part of me wants to tell you why I don’t have interest in relaying my retreat field notes and part of me doesn’t.

Instead, I think I’ll say this: it’s been a hard week. The hardest I’ve had in a very long time.

Over the last few days, it’s been interesting relaying this truth to people who have casually asked: how’s it going? I am someone who is interested in not answering on auto pilot with such empty responses such as: fine and good when confronted with that how are you question. However, I’m also interested in being brief. It’s a challenge, to say the least. On the best of weeks I am at a loss for how best to answer this question in such a way that is honest and also quick and to the point.

When I’ve told people: this week has been hard or I am being really challenged this week it solicited a range of responses I did not care for being on the receiving end of. It puts me in touch with how poorly skilled we are as a human collective to listen deeply and to respond in the spirit of interbeing.

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No one kind of tea is for everyone

… the paradox is one of our most valued spiritual possessions…only the paradox comes anywhere near to comprehending the fullness of life.    – Carl Jung

Did you know there’s no one kind of tea that suits everyone’s fancy? Mint comes closest to being a crowd pleaser, I reckon. Still, it’s not for everyone. Nothing is.

Nothing.

There are countless ways to do life. And part of us knows this but it’s usually not a large enough percentage to equate to understanding on a deep enough level to make even a small dent in our delusions about such things.

There’s a persistent tickle whisper of a voice that serenades us, singing songs of fabled sameness to a shuttering detriment.

It’s worth us getting this one corrected.

We’re all one and We’re all the same are true only so much that it doesn’t interfere with another solid truth: the one about how we are all different.

Too often, we apply the lens of sameness in times when the lens of different-ness should be used. We get stuck in trite twirlings, insisting: This tea is sooo freakin good, you’re going to LOVE it! You HAVE HAVE HAVE to try it!! And if it turns out that said person who was supposed to love it does not, in fact, love it, well then clearly something is amiss with said person. Clearly their taste is flawed or their senses dulled from a sinus infection they don’t know they have or their pallet so under-developed they wouldn’t know good tea if it walked up to them like Bigfoot in the forest and said hello. Clearly, they are wrong.

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Four Elements of Lay Life

Lately, I’ve been thinking about what the foundational elements of my life are, as a lay practitioner in the Plum Village Buddhist tradition. A while back, I watched a Dharma talk online from a monastic Sister where she spoke of the founding principles of monastic life at the monasteries in our tradition and I think, if I remember right, what I’ve landed on is similar to what she shared.

I’ve identified four elements – and to be clear, theses are ones I’ve simply recognized are true and in play for myself personally, this is not any sort of official list adopted by anyone other than myself.

Nicole’s Four Foundational Elements of Lay Practice Life

  1. Practice (includes Dharma study)
  2. Work
  3. Rest
  4. Play (includes music/art/creative expression)

For me, it’s helpful to understand clearly what my foundational elements are as a lay practitioner so that I know what my priorities are and in what direction I want to be spending my time and limited energy. Life is about balance. And for me it’s about balancing these four elements, often on a daily basis.

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Generosity

The Thirteenth Mindfulness Training: Generosity

Aware of the suffering caused by exploitation, social injustice, stealing, and oppression, we are committed to cultivating generosity in our way of thinking, speaking, and acting. We will practice loving kindness by working for the happiness of people, animals, plants, and minerals, and sharing our time, energy, and material resources with those who are in need. We are determined not to steal and not to possess anything that should belong to others. We will respect the property of others, but will try to prevent others from profiting from human suffering or the suffering of other beings.

In Thay’s commentary on the Thirteenth Mindfulness Training in the book Interbeing, he states:

This training is closely linked with the Fourth (Awareness of Suffering), the Fifth (Simple, Healthy Living), the Eleventh (Right Livelihood), and the Twelfth (Reverence for Life). In order to understand this mindfulness training deeply, we need to meditate on those four other trainings.

– pg. 49, third edition, 1998.

I just started reflecting on this training this week, along with a friend of mine who is an OI aspirant I am helping to mentor. We’ve been making our slow way through all of the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings, spending two-weeks on each training. Reading and reflecting on each one and watching associated Dharma talks by the Plum Village monastics on youtube. It’s been a lovely practice spending concentrated, quality time with each of the trainings.

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3 encounters that triggered my “this isn’t right” button

I came across this poster for sale at a local store in Polson, Montana on Thursday (see above).

Write it on your heart that every day is the best day of the year.

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

What an important and lovely verse to carry with us on our path of developing values and in our tool bag of practices. Too often, we set our life up to be happy, to be content, to be full of gratitude later on, at some undisclosed date in the future. We hinge our happiness on acquiring something or someone or some experience that isn’t happening in the here and now. What if instead of tomorrow or next week or next year being the best time we can envision, it was today? Game changer.

Over the past two days, I’ve had three encounters with strangers that prompted this writing I penned this morning:

Rally kindness,
even when it’s counter-intuitive –
especially when it’s counter-intuitive.

Rally kindness when you don’t feel like it;
when a situation seemingly calls for its opposite;
when it’s hard as hell to do it.

Rally kindness,
in body, speech, mind,
and in spirit.

Rally kindness so that it becomes
the lens through which you see the world;
so that it becomes the soles of your shoes
and the air you breathe, in and out.

If we choose not to rally kindness –
and yes, it is a choice –
amid challenging times with difficult people,
we will never stand a chance
of growing a garden of love and inclusiveness,
to cover the world over.

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Cultivating Joy

Image credit: http://everybodyhasabrain.com/the-five-remembrances/

Because of the simple fact that we are of the nature to grow old, have ill heath, and die – and because everyone and everything we cherish is of the nature to change – cultivating joy is imperative, if we have the desire to live a well-contented life. The consequences of cultivating joy is a life lived with intention, connection, and heart.

When the quality of joy is nourished and strengthened in the open field of our internal landscape, the ground on which we stand becomes a fertile place for other beneficial seeds to grow alongside of it. Seeds such as: patience, ease, understanding, compassion, empathy, kindness, gratitude, humility, and equanimity. When we water the seed of joy, these nearby companion seeds also get watered.

When our seed of joy is not well tended to, we are liable to go man overboard into the ocean of suffering when we find our self in the turbulent waters of: stress, upset, anger, jealousy, sorrow, a bad day, unpleasant encounters, or unfavorable conditions of any kind.

Indications – like a low-fuel light on the dash – that your seed of joy is under-nourished:

  • On a regular basis, after engaging with the news, you feel overwhelmed, cynical, hopeless, deflated, and/or pissed off.
  • You give more street cred to suffering than to joy, discounting those who you deem to be happy and doing well as being in denial of the “real” state of affairs.
  • You feel affronted/mistreated by others in a variety of settings on a daily or regular basis.
  • You continually sit in judgement of others, for a myriad of reasons; are constantly annoyed and disappointed by others; are caught in the comparison game, always measuring yourself up against others.
  • Small things set you off on an inner or outer tirade of cynicism/frustration/impatience/anger/fight mode.
  • You see the doom & gloom of situations most readily and have a negative spin on most people & places you encounter.
  • You smile infrequently, if at all.
  • You routinely feel exhausted and burnt out; depleted; spent.

We’re all familiar with the ways in which to care well for our physical health but what about our mental health? Mental health is just as important as our physical health. And cultivating joy is the best way I have found to nourish, bolster, and fertilize my mental health. Well balanced and well nurtured physical health + well balanced and well nurtured mental health = optimal well-being.

Fruits that develop from ongoingly and continually cultivating a strong seed of joy:

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All In

1.

I’m the sorta writer who’s comfortable being a one trick pony; able only to write about my own life and how I live it. I’m not a poet or a comedian but I weave words like spring blooms flowers and I find my own self hilarious on a regular and ongoing basis.

I’m a writer in the same way the seasons come calling and winter is the longest, here in the mountains of the west.

I’m a writer like I’m a Montanan, not native born but chosen – and savored as though any day might be my last. And there’s a good chance I’m a writer in the same way I’m a comic: not at all and only to myself.

I’m a writer who likes to think that one day the book I wrote will be in book form, with a cover and binding and acknowledgements no one reads.

I’m the sorta writer whose heart will be the last thing that gives up – and it’ll take a tank to take me out.

2.

I’m someone whose called to step it up in the being-a-decent-human department. I’m someone who’d much rather be seen as kind than cool. I’m someone not looking to put on airs or parade around pretending to be something I’m not – but you should know that who I am authentically is a standup dude and I have my house in good working order. So if I intimidate you or you think I appear too good to be for real, that’s your baggage not mine.

I’m someone who works hard each and every day to show up well for my fellow global inhabitants. I’m committed to a life lived with a heart open choked and full throttle and high moral standards I’m not willing to compromise on.

I’m someone who holds in high regard such things as virtues and ethics when it comes to modes of conduct and behavior. I’m someone who doesn’t think it’s dope to joke about dysfunction or how someone spends most of their time drunk or high or in a state of perpetual teenagerhood.

I’m someone for whom life is an action verb and I’m someone who is all in.