Resting Is Fuel For Engaging

from Everyday Peace Cards, 108 Mindfulness Meditations by Thich Nhat Hanh

Don’t you just love when things line up sometimes? For the past few days, I’ve been percolating on crafting a blog post on the power/importance/wisdom/practice/art of resting and this morning, I drew this card at random from my deck of Everyday Peace Cards to read and reflect on this week.

In case you’re not well-versed in the topics I routinely gravitate towards, I write fairly often about the art of resting. Two of my other regular writing threads center around cultivating joy and practicing gratitude – and all three are investments of time I place high on my list of priorities, as someone who is deeply called in the direction of spiritual living.

So this is me, putting out yet another plug for resting as a vital component of well-being.

My experience -both personally and from what I’ve seen in my friends & family – aligns with what TNH is saying in the card shown above: most of us do not know how to rest.

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For vs. Against

On Friday, I attended a rally centered around the death of George Floyd here in Missoula, Montana, organized by the UM Black Student Union. Despite it being a quickly put together event, there was a good attendance and in large part a collective adherence to covid protocols (ie: mask wearing & social distancing).

Each time I am alerted to an organized gathering centered around a particular issue or matter in our lovely mountain town – this liberal oasis in an otherwise beet red state – I try my best to ascertain whether it will be a rally or a protest before I commit myself to attending. Similar to the Mother Teresa quote above, I myself am all for events that are pro/for-something but I am not likely to attend if it’s more of an against-something sort of event. A yes-event vs. a no-event, if you will.

I don’t consider myself an activist. I would never use that word to describe myself nor do I think it’s an apt descriptor to use should someone else try to pin that label on me. But please don’t get me wrong, I think activists are an important demographic of our population and I am glad there are many who gravitate in this direction. We all have our different callings – and thank goodness for that. There are a lot of worthy directions to travel in and each of us only has so much time and energy to devote in any given day.

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Paramita #6: Understanding

Here is the verse my local paramita practice group has been reading & reflecting on daily this past week – which is the last one in our 6-week series – which I took and pieced together from the section focusing on the Sixth Paramita (understanding) from Thay’s book The Heart of the Buddha’s Teachings:

The highest kind of understanding is to be free from all knowledge, concepts, ideas, and views. If we can offer understanding to someone, that is true love. The one who receives our understanding will bloom like a flower, and we will be rewarded at the same time. Understanding is a fruit of the practice. Looking deeply means to be there, to be mindful, to be concentrated. The teaching of the Buddha is to help us understand reality deeply. A wave is a wave, it has a beginning and an end. But a wave is, at the same time, water. Water is the ground of being of the wave. It is important that a wave knows that she is water, and not just a wave. We, too, live our life as an individual. We believe that we have a beginning and an end, that we are separate from other living beings. That is why the Buddha advised us to look more deeply in order to touch the ground of our being.

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Paramita #5: Meditation

WEEK FIVE: MEDITATION
(taken and pieced together from Thay’s book The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching)

Verse to read & reflect on daily:

Meditation consists of two aspects: stopping and looking deeply. We run our whole life chasing after one idea or happiness or another. Stopping is to stop our running, our forgetfulness, our being caught in the past or the future. We come home to the present moment, where life is available. Stopping is the practice of calming our body and emotions through the practice of mindful breathing, mindful walking, and mindful sitting; it is also the practice of concentrating, so we can live deeply each moment of our life. Looking deeply is to see the true nature of things. You look deeply into the person you love and find out what kinds of suffering or difficulty she has within herself and what aspirations she holds.

Unlike with the other paramitas thus far, this one brought up very little for me. The other ones spurred a lot of reflection for me but this past week very little has bubbled up for me around meditation and the daily verse.

The emphasis on looking deeply resonates for me and I appreciate how simply Thay broke meditation down to stopping & looking deeply. I think sometimes it can be easy to think meditation is just about stopping – but for me, if I practice stopping without also adding in the practice of deep looking, then I’m not so sure really much can change or transform; I’m not sure I can do much growing.

Deep looking is a necessary component of transformation, growth work, and skill building. In late March, I watched a Dharma talk online by Brother Phap Dung and I took notes during it (as I always do) and I jotted down something he shared: “ Deep looking is not analyzing, it means deep listening.” This really spoke to me. As soon as I heard him say that it made so much sense. So I’ve been keeping this teaching close to me: deep looking means deep listening. And I would add for myself: deep looking means being curious and asking questions.

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Paramita #4: Diligence

Here is the verse our local paramita practice group has been reading & reflecting on daily this past week, which I took and pieced together from the section focusing on the Fourth Paramita (diligence) from Thay’s book The Heart of the Buddha’s Teachings:

The Buddha said that in the depth of our store consciousness, there are all kinds of positive and negative seeds (anger, delusion, understanding, forgiveness…). Many of these seeds have been transmitted to us by our ancestors. We should learn to recognize every one of these seeds in us in order to practice diligence. The practice is to:

– refrain from watering the negative seeds in us and in the people we love. We also try to recognize the positive seeds that are in us and to live our daily life in a way that we can touch them and help them manifest in the upper level of our consciousness.
– “change the peg”; if you have a mental formation arising that you consider to be unwholesome, invite another mental formation to replace it.
– invite only pleasant seeds to come up and sit in the living room of your consciousness. Never invite a guest who brings your sorrow and affliction.
– keep a wholesome seed as long as possible once it has manifested.

If mindfulness is maintained for 15-minutes, the seed of mindfulness will be strengthened, and the next time you need the energy of mindfulness, it will be easier to bring up.

Gosh, I’ve really been enjoying this paramita reflection group. If you didn’t read the first post in this paramita series, I am part of a small group of 6 people and we’ve been a group now for 4-weeks, with 2 more left to go, centered around the Six Paramitas.

On Monday of each week we start with a different paramita and read a verse each day for the week associated with it. Then on Sunday, each member of our group offers a short check-in about their reflections and practice with the paramita on a shared Google doc. Originally, our group was slated to meet once in person at the end of our 6-weeks, however, we will likely now be meeting on Zoom instead.

For me, the benefit of knowing I have a group of friends I’m practicing with and holding myself accountable to while also having it be largely self-propelled and online works really well as a format. It’s just enough structure without too much structure and leaves a lot of open room for creativity and personalization.

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Paramita #3: Inclusiveness

Yesterday morning, I was driving to my stepson Jaden’s apartment, which he shares with his girlfriend Sierra, to drop off some food for them. Very few people were out and about on the road but I managed to get “stuck” the bulk of the way behind what I consider to be the standard Missoulian driver (translation: they were driving 5 miles under the speed limit). As I have a great desire to go a standard 5 miles OVER the speed limit around town, irritation is commonplace for me while driving. (I put intentional and ongoing effort into infusing my practice into the action of driving and I’ve come a long way and still have further to go.)

When irritation rose up in me, while puttering behind what seemed to be the only other car on the road in town other than my own, I saw my irritation straight away and laughed light-heartedly (which helps me to befriend my irritation). Then I said out loud to myself: Well Nicole, this is it, isn’t it? THIS is the practice of inclusiveness, right here and now. I mean, if you can’t work to enfold this super minor frustration into your practice then what possible hope is there for working with bigger moments when they arise? Then, as is often the case when I talk to myself, I answered myself back: Good point buddy. You’re totally right.

So, here is the verse our local paramita practice group has been reading & reflecting on daily this past week, which I took and pieced together from the section focusing on the Third Paramita from Thay’s book The Heart of the Buddha’s Teachings:

Inclusiveness is the capacity to receive, embrace, and transform. To suppress our pain is not the teaching of inclusiveness. We have to receive it, embrace it, and transform it. The only way to do this is to make our heart big. We look deeply in order to understand and forgive. The Buddha gave very concrete teachings on how to develop inclusiveness – love, compassion, joy, and equanimity. If you practice these Four Immeasurable Minds, you will have a huge heart. If you keep your pain for too long, it is because you have not yet learned the practice of inclusiveness.

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In Honor of National Poetry Month

All the necessary components for this dame to craft her own poetry:

a dark & early morning; the poetry of someone else; a cup of tea; candlelight; my notebook & trusty steed of a pen: a blue-ink, extra-fine, Pilot P-500.

Yesterday, not knowing it was National Poetry Month, I posted this on my Facebook page:

“I feel called to share about a project I have been joyfully working on as of late. I am putting together a homespun book of my poetry to make available for local sale. In honor of it being 2020, it’s called Hindsight is 20/20.

Here is what is likely to be the intro I include in the book:

If a poem doesn’t insist on closer communion with something ordinary and usual, or serve to blow at the dust laced in layers on the lens of our world view, I reckon it must be something entirely other than a poem. A head-heavy logical discourse maybe – or something else equally terrible.”

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Then, this morning, I discovered the reason that prompted my seemingly spontaneous calling to craft that post: it’s National Poetry Month! Perhaps I was tuning into the collective poetic vibration.

Recently, I have been receiving an abundance of nourishment and inspiration from poetry – moreso than usual. Just this past week, two new books of poetry I ordered arrived in the mail, which I’ve been taking great delight in:

I find that poetry, like music, bypasses my brain-heavy logical processing and sifts on down deeper into the soft organ of my heart-space, where intuit replaces reason and I’m guided by feeling instead of thinking.

So, this is me simply wanting to continue to elevate the platform of poetry during this time of global crisis, interlaced with loss, fear, and uncertainty. At first glance, it can be easy to think that poetry is not much to look at – and of course, poetry isn’t for everyone, because no one thing ever is – but I would encourage a second look to be given to the poetic masters. Folks like Mary Oliver, David Whyte, Billy Collins, Maya Angelou, Pablo Neruda, Emily Dickinson, and so many many others.

Poetry can prove to be a powerful salve to help tend to the tears in our spirit, and help heal our broken faith in something bigger.

Some of my most recent haiku:

Quietude in sound
Noise amid silence grows thick
All things shift with time

Our sky grows lighter
Earlier and earlier
A bit more each day

There is no more time
There is all the time we need
Death is far and near

Poetry in flame
A lit match of words is sparked
By a want for change

Mostly, this is it
A captivation of might
Harnessed through my pen

 

 

 

 

My Four Main Practice Threads

A little thing I made this morning :)

Most of what I have to share about in regards to the practice of mindfulness, rooted in the Plum Village tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh, centers around these four main threads, which I personally weave into my daily life on a regular and ongoing basis:

  1. Cultivating joy
  2. Practicing gratitude
  3. Prioritizing rest
  4. Monitoring closely the power & importance of words

Of course, there are other threads I weave in too, like: comfort zone expansion work and investing in creative forms of self-expression, but both of these, and many others, could simply be enfolded into one of the categories above. This list of four threads is the foundation of my own personal practice; it’s where I dig my Dharma well.

In Thay’s book Interbeing, in the four principles listed for the Order of Interbeing, it states:

It is said that there are 84,000 Dharma doors through which one can enter Buddhism. For Buddhism to continue as a living source of wisdom and peace, even more doors should be opened.

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Paramita #1: Generosity

Excerpt from The Heart of Buddha’s Teaching by Thich Nhat Hanh:

The Six Paramitas are a teaching of Mahayana Buddhism. Paramita can be translated as “perfection” or “perfect realization.” The Chinese character used for paramita means “crossing over to the other shore,” which is the shore of peace, non-fear, and liberation.

(1) dana paramita – giving, offering, generosity.

(2) shila paramita – precepts or mindfulness trainings.

(3) kshanti paramita – inclusiveness, the capacity to receive, bear, and transform the pain inflicted on you by your enemies and also by those who love you.

(4) virya paramita – diligence, energy, perseverance.

(5) dhyana paramita – meditation.

(6) prajña paramita – wisdom, insight, understanding.

Practicing the Six Paramitas helps us to reach the other shore — the shore of freedom, harmony, and good relationships. 

This past week marked the start of a 6-week, largely online based, self-propelled, group-supported reflection practice I put together in order to delve more deeply into the Six Paramitas. The group is free and open to our local sangha members and there are 6 of us participating. Each week starting on Mondays, we read and reflect daily on a verse I send to the group on the paramita we’re focused on and on Sundays we report back to the group, via a few typed sentences posted on a shared Google doc, about what was alive for us in relation to working with the paramita over the past week. I also send an audio recording for folks to listen to centered on the paramita at hand.

Here is the verse our group has been reading & reflecting on daily this past week, which I took and pieced together from the section focusing on the First Paramita from Thay’s book The Heart of the Buddha’s Teachings:

To give means first of all to offer joy, happiness, and love. The greatest gift we can offer anyone is our true presence. What else can we give? Our stability; Our freedom; Our freshness; Peace; Space; Understanding.

The practice of giving can bring you to the shore of well-being very quickly. What you give is what you receive. Whether you give your presence, your stability, your freshness, your solidity, your freedom, or your understanding, your gift can work a miracle. Dana paramita is the practice of love.

So for the past week, I’ve been focusing on Giving/Generosity. Here are some of my personal reflections & other things I penned down over the last few days:

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Don’t Try to be a Good Practitioner

No photo description available.

 

I posted this on my personal Facebook page this morning (along with the pic above):

Since January, I’ve been choosing a new card every Monday from Thich Nhat Hanh’s “Everyday Peace Cards: 108 Mindfulness Meditations” to read and reflect on for the span of one-week. Yesterday, I chose this card out at random: Peace is contagious. Seems a good fit for the times we find ourselves in.

Just as a virus is contagious and transmittable to others, so too are such things as fear, panic, worry, and despair. And, thankfully, such things as peace, joy, ease, understanding, and solidity are also contagious and transmittable.

Please know that I am here for anyone in need of extra support. Dear friends, I am here for you. We are here for each other.

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In case you can’t read the card above in the pic, it says:

If you have been able to embrace your in-breath and your out-breath with tenderness, you know that they in turn embrace your body and your mind. If you have practiced meditation, you have already discovered this. Peace is contagious. Happiness is contagious.

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A little while after posting,  I thought to myself: Hmm. Oh dear. What if certain people read that post and receive a different message than I’m intending? A message people translate into: “Oh great. Now in order to be a “good mindfulness practitioner” it means I can’t be stressed out or worried about what’s going on in the wake of covid19. But the things is: I AM stressed out and worried, so I’m totally doing it wrong! I’m not a good mindfulness practitioner!”

The above scenario is a worse case situation to my heart’s calling, as someone sincerely invested in helping to support other mindfulness practitioners in the Thich Nhat Hanh tradition and simply people in general. Whenever I write something practice related and post it on one of my many online platforms –  which is to say: pretty much every day – I am actively aware of how people might misunderstand or misinterpret what I’m saying. It’s a risk I choose to take, but I do not take it lightly.

So, this is me wanting to send out the bat signal to say:

Sweet community, whether we know each other or not,

whether you are a mindfulness practitioner or not,

please do not try to be a “good practitioner.”

Please do not think that to worry or to be fearful

translates to your being a “bad Buddhist” or a bad anything.

 

The teaching on Peace is Contagious

does not preclude us from experiencing feelings

of worry, upset, fear, or distress.

This is not an either/or situation.

Every time we take good care of our fear when it arises;

every time we take good care of our worry when it arises;

this too is a way we practice to cultivate peace.

Here is a short poem I wrote this morning and posted on my writer’s Facebook page:

Imagine I were lone paddling
in a kayak towards you,
growing larger and larger
as I drew closer and closer.

Imagine, as you began to see my face
with more detail,
you could feel my great affection
for you;
see it in my naked, shining eyes.

Imagine I docked my humble craft
on the pebbled shores
where you stood;
joined you on the solid ground;
greeted you with a warm smile,
and wrapped my arms around you
and never let go.