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.

Deer Park, Day 16

Sunday February 23rd, 2020
Day 16

Dharma is the path
Of understanding and love
Sangha is the way

Early morning, time un-jotted down (tearoom)

Something I just read and enjoyed from Wisdom Within, teaching and poetry of Zen Master Tue Trung Thuong Sy (1230-1291):

“If you follow a routine and don’t truly live the profound meaning, you will become a robot. Tue Trung just tried to take them out of the land of robots.”

The land of robots. Love it.

Walk in Zen, sit in Zen,
then you will see the lotus blooming in fire.
When your will becomes weak, strengthen it.
When your place is peaceful and suitable, just stay there.

– Tue Trung

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Being an island unto our self and practicing the better way to live alone (both teachings in our tradition) might sit in paradoxical confusion for many of us when paired with our tradition’s pronounced focus on community building and taking refuge in the sangha. Thay has said: “even the Buddha without a sangha cannot do much.” What then are we to make of this? Non-duality is a tricky, sticky mess for most of us.

Both things are true. As practitioners, we apply effort in both directions: cultivating self-sovereignty AND cultivating community. It’s not one OR the other, it’s both.

I think this can be especially confounding to us because we so easily get caught in form. But as from the book in the mention above, if we follow a routine and lose the meaning and spirit of it, we become like robots. Form is beneficial and important but only so much that we keep it infused with the spirit of why we’re engaging with it.

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Deer Park, Day 15

Freshly mulched Circle Garden :)

Saturday February 22nd, 2020
Day 15

I finished a book
Free to pursue other things
A small weight lifted

4am (tearoom)

Mark the day, mark the time. It’s 4am and I’ve done it. I just finished Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. I made it all the way through. It’s a miracle. Okay, well, not a miracle but it is astounding. If someone were to ask me what the book is about, the honest truth (my truth) would be: I really have no idea. If pressed (which: who does that about a book?), I guess I’d say something seemingly meaningful but actually avoidant like: it’s a coming of age story; a finding who we are story; a story about running until there’s no where left to run.

So I read the book and this morning I finished the book. So, that’s a thing that happened. In two-weeks time spent at a monastery, I read the 530-page book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

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Percolation: The other day, as our work crew was readying to fill the 1988 Toyota with mulch down at the gate, someone mentioned having a preference of shovel. He said he’d been working with it the last few mulching times and gotten to know how it handles, and thus, preferred to use a particular one. Someone else joked: Ah, so you’re attached to it, to which I lightly (and surprisingly) chimed in: I think there’s a difference between attachment and making efficient use of a tool, or something to that effect. As Buddhist practitioners, I think this is a topic that is in need of unpacking. Tossing around the word ‘attachment’ doesn’t do us any favors if we don’t know what it means for our own self and what our motivation or end-game is with it.

Too often, this word gets used with a jilted tone or in a snide manner in a skewed context. It’s not at all helpful to tell someone else when you feel they’re attached to something. It’s also not helpful to patronize someone about it. “Now, now, be a good Buddhist and don’t be attached.” Blech. Who wants to be treated like that? (And I’m coming from experience here. I’ve heard long-term practitioners chide people, myself included, like this.) Spiritual whitewashing is something I have very little tolerance for. As soon as I get even the slightest hint that someone isn’t being sincere or isn’t well-grounded or is caught in the form of the practice, I high-tail it the other way.

In my way of thinking, connecting with others and gravitating towards certain people and certain things is not necessarily attachment. I also don’t think all preferences equate to being attached. For me, attachment is a rigid structure for denying the truth and reality of impermanence. It involves relying on someone or something or some experience to be a certain way in order to make us feel a certain way. When we’re attached, there’s something we want to have stay the same and not change. So, in my view, I think there’s potentially a way to be in close relationship with others and to have likes and interests without being “attached.”

And, as with most things, there’s a spectrum when it comes to attachment, so in a sense, preferences are an attachment, they’re just on the low end of the spectrum. Where any particular attachment falls on the spectrum I think depends on how quickly we are able to shift gears when something unexpected happens. If we prefer a certain shovel, for example, but our shovel is unavailable, we might say: Oh darn. Well, that’s okay, this other one will do. Sure we would’ve liked to have had access to the other shovel but it’s not a big deal to use a different one. It’s on the very low end of the attachment spectrum.

It’s this low end of the spectrum area that has me thinking that perhaps to label it all as attachment, does the actual strong-natured, unhealthy style attachment a disservice. It’s kind of like if we use the word love and say I love you to our BFF and then also say I love this hamburger. When the same word is used to describe two very different situations, doesn’t the meaning of the word suffer? I think it does.

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Deer Park, Day 11

Tuesday February 18th, 2020
Day 11

Thick fog crescent moon
Yawning to let in more air
Testament of life

4:50am (tearoom)

A heavy fog has rolled in, perfuming the air with an ocean rich moisture that has puffed up my hair with a frizz I remember from my youth spent on the East Coast, a couple hours inland from the Jersey shoreline.

I’ve not been writing much poetry since I’ve been here, mostly just my one-a-day haiku. Mostly I’ve been journaling and reflecting on the Dharma and making observational notes. I’ve been lightly wondering why this is so. I’ve landed on a few things: 1. I’ve not been reading any poetry since I’ve been here. 2. I’m living the poetry here, experiencing it with all my senses; I’m in absorption mode. 3. Writing poetry, like all things, goes in cycles; it ebbs and flows.

There are mice scurrying and scuffling in the walls of the tearoom as I write. There are hidden mouse friends everywhere here; inside many of the walls of most/all of the buildings. I used to find it concerning back when I first started coming here. Now, for reasons I’m not quite sure about, I find them strangely comforting. Perhaps it’s because I know they are part of the landscape here and to disown them is to disown this place too, in a way.

To say: “This is okay, yep, I accept this part over here; I give my stamp of approval to this stuff because it aligns with my world view of how things should be” to some things and to others say: “Nope, no; I do not agree or accept or approve of that part over there; this does not align with my world view, which means it’s bad and wrong and worthy of discrimination” is pretty much the crux of all forms of suffering. It’s also an incredibly false and illusory way of regarding the world.

So, I figure I can start with loving up on the mice, and then dance wider from there.

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