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On Mental & Emotional Health

I am becoming more and more invested in furthering the dialog that this meme speaks to, as I feel it is a vital component of our well-being and one that is highly undervalued and overlooked in our collective society, to a sometimes tragic and devastating detriment to our fellow human beings.

I recently watched two different interviews with psychologist and neuroscientist Dr. Rick Hanson – one as part of the online World Mindfulness Parenting Summit and one as part of the online Mindful Kids Peace Summit. In both occasions, he spoke about our three basic needs: safety, satisfaction, and connection. He explained that safety is associated with our reptilian brain-stem; satisfaction with our mammalian sub-cortex portion of the brain; and connection with our primate/human neo-cortex portion of the brain. In terms of safety, we look towards avoiding harm. In terms of satisfaction, we look towards approaching rewards. And in terms of connection, we look towards attaching to others.

He goes on to say that when our basic needs are not met, we then enter what he calls the red zone, which involves fight, flight, or freeze mode. However, when we build up our core of resilient well-being, we will be able to weather an increasing array of external stimuli without destabilizing ourselves. He said: You can use your mind to change your brain. He also said: No one can stop you (from doing this work) AND no one can do it for you.

There’s a reason that Buddhism focuses on training and strengthening the mind. It is the seat of working and active power when it comes to how we view, engage, interact, process, and digest the world around us and the people and experiences we encounter. As the Buddha taught:

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Winter Saunter

Thankfully, I’m not easily intimidated by winter weather driving – I mean really, I have a Subaru for goodness sake, this is, in part, what they’re made for. Now, don’t get me wrong, there are times when it would be ill-advised to venture out, but I did not deem today to be one of those days.

Instead, I labeled today’s blustery conditions and smoke-machine-esque ice-marbled roads as a prime time to uphold my self-proclaimed status as a gal who enjoys pushing against the commonly held feminine norms, such as exists around: traveling solo, driving in inclement weather on sketchy roads, and eating out in public with only the company of a good book and writing supplies.

After an hour spent at the Garden of One Thousand Buddhas in Arlee, I landed at the Dixon Mercantile, a place so delightfully quaint that I instantly felt right at home.

There’s something extremely satisfying and life-affirming in skirting collective modes of operation, such as heading north on a solo saunter on Sunday February 3rd in near white-out conditions, and living to tell the tale.

P.S If you live in the area or are ever in the area of western Montana, the Dixon Mercantile (in Dixon, MT) is only 40 miles from Missoula and they are almost solely only open on Sundays from 9-2 for brunch. The owner Laura is super great, the food was really good, and they make homemade fresh bread and pastries. Need I say more?

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Yesterday, I spent 5 uninterrupted hours writing, pretty well glued in the same spot the whole time with only the occasional tea making and bio break to incite bodily movement away from my keyboard. It was glorious.

Today, I road on up north, as any asphalt adventurer knows, it’s unwise to disobey the call of the open road when it summons thee. I followed tire tracks instead of painted lines and in an area thick with mountains, I managed to see none all the way to Arlee and then Dixon.

To be fair, I did consider not heading out on my drive-about prior to leaving the house, once I was confronted with the state of weather happening outside. But it was only about 2% of me that sat in question; the other 98% urged me eagerly onward ho.

Besides, I DID go to all the trouble of running a brush through my hair like two times before putting a winter hat on AND putting on cold-hardy clothes over the top of my pajamas. I was also well equipped with the essentials of winter travel: a fresh Contigo full of tea, my camera, writing supplies, a Subaru, and a good attitude.

And, I figured, one never grows familiar and accustomed to a thing, if said thing is never done.

Sometimes, what’s called for is to foster connection with members of my beloved tribe of humans, as I did last weekend. And sometimes, what’s called for is to bolster the relationship I have with myself, as I’ve been doing this weekend.

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On Diligence

From the blog post of: https://stillwatersanghamn.wordpress.com/2014/09/09/right-diligence/

Excerpt from a Dharma Talk by Thich Nhat Hanh, June 11, 2009.

I prefer the term right diligence rather than right effort. Making efforts can make you tired, but when you are diligent, you don’t need to be tired.

I don’t want intensive practice, I want regular practice, diligent practice. There are those of us who practice very intensively for a few weeks and then after that abandon the practice. But there are those of us who practice regularly, not intensive but continuously, that will bring good results. That is why I prefer the word diligence.

Why do you continue to do it? Because I like it. That is a good answer. Because I enjoy doing that. That applies to the practice. If you don’t enjoy the practice you have to make an effort, you get tired, and finally you abandon the practice.

You continue to do it because you like it. It is not because you have to do it. Why did you practice sitting meditation. The best answer is: because I like it. Why do you practice walking meditation? Because I like it. . . .

That is true diligence, right diligence. We know that right diligence brings well-being. The practices of mindful walking, mindful breathing, smiling, bring well-being, happiness.

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There’s a very good reason as to why the quality of diligence is included in the Eightfold Path, the Five Powers, the Six Paramitas, AND the Seven Factors of Awakening in Buddhism. It speaks to the power of its incredible importance. Diligence is a critical component of developing a strong spiritual practice (whatever spiritual practice/religion we resonate with). And not just any kind of diligence, right diligence.

This morning, I was listening to a talk online by Sister Hoi Nghiem in our Plum Village tradition. She spoke about spiritual bypassing and described it as such: spiritual bypassing means that we think that we are practicing but actually we are not. She went on to say that if continue to run away from our suffering that we will never learn how to understand it, which is what is necessary in order to transform it.

The Sister is talking about right diligence. If we consider ourselves to be a practitioner in the Plum Village mindfulness tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh (TNH), we must cultivate right diligence in our daily lives, on a number of levels.

As the founder and program director of a weekly sangha, Be Here Now, since 2002, I have had the pleasure and fortune of being in continuous contact and relationship with many folks over our 16+ years of operation. One thing that has become clear to me is that the usage of the word diligence makes people shutter and scrunch their foreheads in mild to wild pangs of disapproval. Diligence is NOT sexy. If people are asking for suggestions or advice in relation to their practice and I use the word diligence at any point, the chances are good that they will mentally gloss right over that word and not allow it to penetrate and absorb. Or worse, they might just high-tail it to some other tradition or practice that doesn’t put emphasis on that quality all together.

As an aspiring Dharma-teacher-in-training, I am invested in finding creative approaches to such common obstacles and dilemmas. I am forever investigating for myself how to go about offering teachings in such a way that won’t send people off in an agitated huffy state of mind, body, and heartspace. Words matter. And I am interested in finding ways to talk about such things as diligence in modern ways and vernacular that maximizes approachability and minimizes the scare-factor.

As a student of Thay’s (aka TNH), I especially look to his teachings on this subject matter, to help inform me in the unfolding process of finding my own voice as a budding teacher:

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Why Activists & Vegans Scare Me

Note: My sense is that the above meme is one of those “not really from the Buddha” quotes (which is very common), as the phrasing seems off to me personally. But I include it still because I think it is good quote (and, of course, I could also be wrong about it not being from the Buddha, too!).

 

This is me trying to make sense of things for myself in terms of discovering what my own work is here and what’s fueling my own personal discomfort. I reckon this will be a hard post for me to put into words, but here’s to giving it a whirl:

I bristle and inwardly step back from people who self-identity as activists. And I do the same for vegans. Why? It’s not because I’m against what they stand for or the active choices and priorities they’re making in their life. It’s the energy behind the actions I’m not a big fan of. No one enjoys being talked at by someone who is fired up by something – even when that something is important. And really, even talking with someone who doesn’t share your exact standpoint and lifestyle can be incredibly tricky. Even under the best circumstances, well-intentioned people can cause more harm than good. Just because we have good intentions, doesn’t mean we know how to engage with people in such a way that fosters connection, kindness, and understanding. Sometimes, even when we think we’re doing good, the impact we have on others is harmful. Having good intentions doesn’t automatically inoculate us from causing damage (I recently learned this in a 2-month long weekly class series on developing racial literacy that I just finished).

I’ve been recently making my way through the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings one by one, alongside a friend of mine who’s doing the same. We’re spending two weeks on each training – reading it every day and occasionally journaling about what comes up for us in regards to it. Then we meet once a month to talk about what we’ve discovered for ourselves. We’re on #3 right now: Freedom of Thought. The first two are: Openness and Non-attachment to Views. The first three of the fourteen all have to do with our mind – just as the start of the Eightfold Path starts off with Right View. As the Buddha said: With our thoughts we make the world. 

It’s very difficult – if not impossible – to be an activist (and oftentimes a vegan), without being attached to views. So I suppose I could say that I shy away from people who seem to be overly attached to their views in regards to something in particular. Whether it be politics, the environment, lifestyle choices, matters of injustice, etc., I gravitate away from folks who I see as over-identifying themselves with a certain subject. I’m not saying it’s the right way to be or that I don’t have work to do around this, mind you, this is simply me stating a self-observation.

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Snippets of thought

Last week, I attended a weekend of mindfulness up on the Flathead Lake, hosted by our sister sangha Open Sky, entitled: Be Still and Heal. To help lead it, they brought in Dharma teacher Barbara Newell (formerly Sister Pine in our Plum Village tradition).

I thought I’d craft this post in order to share some pics and a few things I jotted down in my journal over the course of the weekend.

Dec 8th, Early morning journal entry:

Words can do only so much to incite action. Therefore, we should be advised as to when to put them down, in order to lift our gaze and set to the work of embodying their application in our life.

Words are nothing on a page. Words are empty of value when left to swirl around like a goldfish in the murky waters of our minds. And yet, words matter like the pulling of tides. They matter like thunder approaching warning us to weather coming. They can pierce our thickened armor as though it weren’t made of steel, penetrating our hearts like an assassin’s blade. And if I were told I would die tomorrow, I would cling to them for salvation, solace, and camaraderie.

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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.

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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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On the road again

It gets little better for me in the good time department than making tea by the roadside. I’m not sure how quite to describe it but it just makes sense to me.

I’m currently on a road trip, clacking away on my old laptop I keep around for such things as rambling or retreating, so that I can attempt to keep up with all the things that percolate and bubble to the surface that I want to scribe down. It’s far too time consuming and arduous a task to use pen and paper on trips and then have the merry assignment of having to type it all out when I get home – I know, cuz I’ve done it. So, I’ve learned to make peace with traveling with electronics, as there’s a big part of me that would prefer to venture off without them.

Alas, a writer must write – and when she wanders off she must take the tools of the trade with her, with gladness in her heart.

Stats thus far, on my first leg of the trip:
Left town: Friday October 12th at 5:45am
Miles traveled on Friday: 828.9
Car camped for the night: Medina, North Dakota
Arrived in the metro area of the Twin Cities in Minnesota, to spend 2 days with a good friend: Saturday October 13th at 12:30pm
Miles traveled on Saturday: 380.6

Billboard on the roadside in North Dakota :)

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Posted by on October 15, 2018 in Travel, writer's life

 

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