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Nourish to Flourish

For those of you who follow along with my blog here, you may recall that I sometimes use this platform to work on upcoming practice related talks I’ll soon be giving, usually at my local sangha Be Here Now, as it helps me to plan out and organize my thoughts about what I want to share.  This time, however, I’ll be offering a talk to a group of volunteers with a local nonprofit called CASA, which stands for: court appointed special advocates. (From their website: CASA of Missoula provides independent, trained advocates for the best interests of children within the judicial system who are at substantial risk or have experienced abuse or neglect. We provide consistent, long-term advocacy until every child resides in a safe, permanent home.)

As I was asked to talk about the relationship between our energy output and our energy input, I’ve titled this talk Nourish to Flourish.

I’ve often thought about offering these kind of support sessions to volunteer organizations or in work-place settings, as both non-profits and many professions require annual trainings, continuing education credits or have wellness programs built-in. So, this is my first step in that direction.

Talk Prep:

I’d like us to start by having us all count how many breaths we take in the span of 1-minute. And we’ll try our best not to alter our natural breathing rate as much as possible. (Bring a timer and set for 1-minute – instruct folks to remember their number.)

Now, I’d like us to do 5-minutes of quiet sitting together, to settle into the room and this time here together, as simply a way to help us bring our attention and presence into this space and transition from wherever it is we just came from. So I’ll invite us to gently close our eyes and softly focus our attention on the sensations of our breathing in and breathing out…feeling as our chest expands and contracts….feeling as our stomach rises and falls…and noticing how we’re feeling, tuning into our body and our mind…(monitor time for 5-minutes, sound bell to start and end) (NOTE: I find that using the pronoun ‘our’ when doing guided meditations, deep relaxations, or in practice talks in general has a more communal and relational feel to it, verses the more common ‘you’ or ‘your.’ It is also has a less “preachy” or “instructional” air to it when I include myself in the mix by using the word ‘our.’ I mean, we’re all in this together, right? I’m practicing, too!)

So, let’s re-test our breathing rate. Again, for the span of 1-minute we’ll count how many breaths we take, without trying to alter our breathing. (Time for 1-minute.) Ask: How many people found that your number went down after the 5-minutes of sitting? How many people found that it stayed about the same? And did anyone find that it increased? It might interest you to know that the optimal breathing rate for highest functioning and good health is around 6 breaths per minute, with the medical norm around 12 breaths per minute, and the average adult is now breathing even faster, at about 15-20 breaths per minute. And severely ill patients have an even higher rate.

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Preferences

For the past few years I’ve been replacing the idea of New Year’s resolutions, which I’ve never cared for, with the development of new mindfulness exercises. I’m currently working with a number of new mindfulness practices to incorporate into my daily and weekly routine, which started at the beginning of the year. It’s worth mentioning, however, that typically I wouldn’t encourage the cultivation of so many new practices all at once, unless a practitioner has invested time in building a strong, diligent foundation in mindfulness, as trying to take on too much too fast is an easy undertaking, and an easy undoing of our stability.

My new practices include:

– Saying a short verse to myself upon waking up each morning

– Uni-tasking while brushing my teeth (verses multi-tasking)

– Saying a personalized closing verse to myself after breakfast each morning

– Jotting down observations I make in a small notebook when I’m in my car at red lights, or in other such instances where I’m stopped and waiting (at the bank, for instance)

– Mindful Morning Saturdays, where I devote the hours of 5:00-8:00am as a concentrated time to practice mindfulness (I read passages in our chanting book, do sitting meditation and three touchings of the earth, practice the 16 Qi Gong stick exercise routine, practice mindful eating of my breakfast, and watch a portion of a Dharma talk video online)

– Paying special attention to my preferences: what they are, how they show up in my life, looking deeply into whether they are helpful or harmful

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Haiku

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I’ve recently taken to writing haiku. While I value all forms of creative and expressive writing, haiku had never been particularly appealing to me, from a writing standpoint, which was mostly due to my love of words and haiku being too short and succinct to embody all of what I wanted to say. But I’ve been learning more about the art of haiku, and developing a deeper understanding and appreciation of it. As I’m getting the hang of haiku writing, it’s becoming quite fun!

In reading online about haiku, a few things really resonated for me: R.H. Blyth, who was a well-known interpreter of Japanese haiku into English, explained haiku as “an open door which looks shut.” One definition of haiku said: a short poem recording the essence of a moment, keenly perceived, in which nature is linked to human nature. And another source whittled down haiku to three words: concision, perception, and awareness.

The art of haiku is not simply a matter of following a set pattern of syllables (5, 7, 5 as we’ve commonly translated it into English, though this can sometimes vary). Traditionally, haiku involves a juxtaposing of something nature/season related with something present tense/human world related. This is where I feel the art of haiku writing comes in. It’s not about penning any ol’ thing that comes to mind in the allotted structure of 5/7/5, it’s about relaying an insight or experience relating to the present moment – taken in this light, haiku is right up my alley :) Haiku is very relate-able and easily interwoven with a Zen-based practice.

I’m finding it a welcomed challenge to coalesce what I have to say in the simple structure of haiku. I figure that, as a lover of the Dharma and an aspiring Dharma teacher, if I cannot manage to offer what I have to say in a clear, precise manner, then I have more work to do in sculpting my experience and insights so that they may have the best chance of penetrating into the hearts and practice of others. Of course, haiku is a rather extreme and limiting way to offer full fledged dharmic teachings, but it’s affording me good practice in getting at the core of things.

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Posted by on February 11, 2017 in Creative Writing

 

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Deer Park, Arrival Day

2017 Deer Park Daily Musings
Written during a retreat I attended from January 6th-27th (though was unable to post until the Internet became available once I returned home)

Background Info & Terminology: Deer Park Monastery is rooted in the mindfulness tradition of Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh and is situated in Escondido, CA, north of San Diego. Mike and I choose to voluntarily lodge separately when we go to Deer Park during the winter retreat, which affords us the best of both worlds: having our own retreat experiences and able to spend time together 2 or 3 days a week. Mike stays with the brothers in Solidity Hamlet and I stay with the sisters in Clarity Hamlet, which are a short 10-minute walk from each other but do operate quite independently.

Laypeople: Also called lay friends or laymen and laywomen; those of us who practice in this tradition but are not monks or nuns.
Monastics: The collective group of both monks and nuns.
Clarity Hamlet: Where the nuns, also called Sisters, reside. Laywomen stay here as well.
Solidity Hamlet: Where the monks, also called Brothers, reside. Laymen and couples/families stay here as well.
Thay: Refers to Thich Nhat Hanh, meaning “teacher” in Vietnamese)

dscn5502Me upon first arriving; waiting in the tearoom to meet the guest-master 

Arrival Day:
Friday January 6th, 2017

5:52pm

I edged out of bed this morning keenly aware that it will be 3 weeks before my husband and I will lie side-by-side again. As the waves crashed in eroding swells just outside (we had the treat of staying right on the water in Ocean Beach with my mom and stepdad for two nights before coming here to Deer Park), I understood how the sum of each one changes the shoreline forever. Just as each action we take, or don’t take, changes our path.

I just returned back to my “hut”, as the sisters call them – a one room cabin with 2 bunk beds and 2 single beds, with an attached bathroom, affectionately named Baby Elephant. It’s the first of four huts situated here in Clarity Hamlet. I just finished up a wonderful dinner of rice and tofu, mushroom soup. The crickets are in full chorus. Darkness has steeped the monastery in a cool and quiet calm.

I’ve touched ground here without missing a beat, as though 12 months haven’t passed since last I was here. I’m a stranger in this landscape, and yet, this is home, too.

dscn5493Clarity Hamlet – the top is the small meditation hall

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Breathe, It’ll Be Okay

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It’s not up to our country’s leaders to instate an atmosphere of togetherness, it’s up to us.

We are the people we’ve been waiting for to rise up.

So let us rise up as one community.

In the spirit of connection, understanding, and compassion,

let us rise up.

 

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What Mindfulness Isn’t

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With our second installment of Mindful Community Conversations happening tonight (a monthly series I put together to focus on difficult topics that incorporate the practice of mindfulness as a tool to help along the path of healing), I’ve been thinking about the sometimes common tendency to regard mindfulness as the only tool needed in order to build a healthy, happy life, or to recover and heal from difficult situations. It’s important to relay, especially to newer practitioners, that mindfulness, while a big tool in the tool box, is only one of many others. Just as we would not be able to use only one tool to build a foundation for a house, we will likely not be able to use mindfulness alone to build a foundation for our well being.

Over the years I’ve heard from people who regard mindfulness as some kind of magic solution to every situation that arises. Those same people then become deflated and disappointed in themselves (as though they were a bad practitioner) as a result of mindfulness not being enough to help them through certain difficulties, such as when dealing with depression, addiction, loss, grief, anger, anxiety or trauma. While the practices of mindfulness: sitting meditation, walking meditation, mindful eating, mindful breathing, and so on, can aid in any situation that arises, we also need to develop and work with other tools in order to support and nourish our entire being.

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Something Needs to Change

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Last month, amid a string of private facebook conversation messages I was roped into (and eventually figured out how to bow out of continuing to receive), someone in the chain of messages said the following:

“I won’t be able to breathe until after Labor Day, I’m so very busy.”

And I thought: Goodness, I think something needs to change.

If we’re too busy to breathe, too busy to live life well, perhaps it’s time to do something a little different.

If you’ve been following me here on this blog, you know that I’ve written a few times about my dislike of any response having to do with the word busy. As in:

Gosh, I’m just sooo busy! or

I’ve been CRAZY busy! or

Well, ya know, I’m super busy.

 

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Posted by on August 12, 2016 in Everyday Practice

 

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