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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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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Squirrel Meditation

Our campsite on the Flathead Lake

This past weekend (Aug 2-5) we had our sangha summer campout with our meditation community Be Here Now – it was our 6th annual! We’ve been using the same campground each summer: Big Arm State Park on the Flathead Lake in northwestern Montana. For the past 3 years, we’ve been managing to reserve their one and only group site, which wonderfully allows us to be all together in one spot AND right on the water! So great!!

Each campout is a nice social/community building/relaxing hang-time on the lake opportunity for our sangha. It allows us to be joyfuly together, whilst revelling in the lake, each others company, and the practice of having nowhere to go and nothing to do. We spend our time: reading, floating/paddling/swimming, conversing, laughing, playing games, drinking tea/coffee, sharing community meals, napping, and hanging out around the fire at night. Given that we had a smaller group than usual, and Saturday afternoon was a bit blustery, we even took a field trip this year during our campout: cherry picking!

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Journal Entries from Lake Como (Montana style)

I got back yesterday from an overnight excursion to Lake Como – the Montana version, not the one in Italy. Here are some of the (unedited) journal musings I penned while out on the water and camping in the woods.

Friday July 13th

Not yet 8pm. Shadows grow in the forest, as the sun wanes and the sky fades to pale blue, like an after-thought. Cowboy Junkies on the portable speaker prove the perfect accompaniment to my cup of tea and the creek beside me, small but surging mightily, just like me.

A bluebird day on the lake coats my skin and sits tangled in my long hair. And I’m the sort of tired that I remember from my youth, after a day spent sunbathing, running from ocean waves, and flirting with bronze-glazed boys thick with intrigue. A delicious tired, sugared with a communion with something bigger.

There’s a certain aliveness, in this flavor of winding down, following a day that leaves your face awash in the reds of summer. And I reckon I’ll sleep good tonight, rocked in lullaby arms by the song of the water making its way over rocks downstream.

_______

I breathe just a little bit deeper in the woods, befriended by my rooted brethren.

I breathe deeper when gazing at mountain peaks, as a witness to stellar beauty.

And I breathe deeper whenever I look up – at trees or buildings or sky – as it helps me to remind me that I am part of a whole big and wide open world.

_______

9:18pm

I feel asleep with my friend Ashly’s book manuscript on my stomach and just awoke. The forest is darkening to muted greens and flat tones of ash. I smell of insect repellent and sunscreen and solitude, a mixture I take solace in more than words can properly convey. Still finding my way venturing on solo overnights in the woods, an inner stirring of uneasiness arises, when I think of how the babbling creek would drown out the approach of ne’er-do-wells I try not to imagine are thrumming through the night on back roads, looking for a fresh target to mess with. (Added side note: For the record, ne’er-do-well is a word that I like the sound of far more than the dictionary definition of, as it means a worthless person, which I don’t at all subscribe to as being a possibility. I think of this word as referring to a person who is up to no good.)

In my evening cat nap, I think I may have dreamed in color, rich in the dalliances of friendships past and those I hope soon will come. Though, it’s hard to say for sure. Dreams are tricky that way. Sometimes they scoop me up and swallow me whole, rendering me awash in memory’s twilight. Other times, I become a false impression in their wake, stumbling around within myself for hope of grounding in a truth I can bite into and chew.

______

My mind kicks up storm clouds, like the haze left behind on a dirt road in the heat of summer. And sometimes, despite my best efforts to redirect my focus, it is undeterred from its obsessions of thought.

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New Plan!

If you’re an avid reader here, you may recall that one of my oft used life mottoes is: New plan! And the exclamation point is an important part of the motto, as it stipulates a certain energy that must get summoned alongside of the words, so that the spirit of the motto has the opportunity to arise. Just saying the words without evoking the spirit will sorely impact the motto’s efficacy rate.

Let’s say you’re waiting for a flight at the airport. While standing at the gate, an announcement is made that your flight has been delayed. You now have at least 2 options. You could grumble about it to your travel companion, or text someone or post your angst on social media if you’re flying solo. OR you could New plan! it. You could say New plan! and flow with the moment, determining what to do with the extra hang time you now have on your hands. New plan! is like a gear shifter, helping us to practice moving along with the moment as the landscape around us changes, verses getting stuck-tied to how something was “supposed” to be. I’ve found that it helps to say it out loud, too.

Yesterday, this motto accompanied me in especially strong accord. My original plan was to take my standup paddleboard, new camping hammock, and new/used Subaru and solo car camp overnight on the Clearwater river, about a 40-minute jaunt from town. I’d paddle around in the heat of day, swing in the hammock in between water excursions, write, drink tea, and maybe manage to write a letter to my friend Daniel. That was the plan. And I did do most of those things. I found a spot where I intended; paddled around on a lazy stretch of the Clearwater River; took a cat nap in the hammock; and even made some tea and did a bit of writing.

The place I was situated is a rare find in Montana. It’s a spot on the water that’s free and open for folks to camp just about anywhere they can nestle in. Now, there’s a ton of free camping in this lovely state, with all of the national forest land we have. You can drive up almost any ol’ dirt road and kick it for up to 14-days. But to camp for free on the water is a hard find. And the thing with paid camping on the water in the summertime of Montana, is that you either need to reserve your spot 9-months in advance or you need to time it right, in order to secure one of the first-come-first-serve spots. Cuz, guess who else wants to camp right on the water? EVERYONE.

The hitch in the giddy-up came about 2-hours in, after I had settled into my camp spot. There were other campers spread out along the stretch of river I was on but we were all giving each other the customary buffer of personal space. I had staked claim to a great little spot, where I could only just barely see the next campers down the way. I was enjoying a cup of freshly made tea when a group of about 6 adults came to hop in the water right by where I was stationed. They were camping somewhere nearby and my only guess was that I had secured one of the few good river access spots in the area. I mean, just because there’s a river doesn’t mean every spot along it lends itself well for hopping on in. I’m not sure why else they would’ve traveled down to where I was, as we were all camping beside the water.

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Sangha Camp Out

Flathead Lake, Montana

Flathead Lake, Montana

This past weekend was our 2nd annual Be Here Now Sangha camp out on the Flathead Lake in western Montana (it would’ve been our 3rd annual but we cancelled our trip last year at the last minute on account of the weather).  Our sangha (based in the mindfulness tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh) meets every Monday night from 7:30-8:45pm and our format includes: sitting and walking meditation, a reading, sharing circle, and a closing circle for gratitude and healing.  Outside of our regular weekly gatherings we like to get together for social events that allow us to build our relationships with one another and have fun – potlucks and open mic nights are our favorites :)  And our newest favorite is our summer camp out!

Only having done two camp outs so far we’re still honing in the art of group camping.  Logistics and feeding 12-15 people on camp stoves in the woods (in bear country) with no electricity and running water takes some planning.  Every year we learn a little more about how to improve on our set up for the next camp out.  It’s a great adventure!

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Sangha Camping

Flathead Lake at Sunset at Big Arm State Park in Big Arm, Montana

Flathead Lake at Sunset at Big Arm State Park in Big Arm, Montana

This past weekend our Be Here Now Sangha went on an informal camping trip to Big Arm State Park on the Flathead Lake in Big Arm, Montana.  On Friday night we had 7 people and by late afternoon on Saturday we were up to 12 folks in all.  It was a nice time of being together as a community of friends while spending time outside on the lake.

I enjoyed the fact that in our small group we had two kids and folks in all of the decades of 20’s, 30’s, 40’s, and 50’s – and even two dog friends.  The intermingling of ages is something I really appreciate about Be Here Now.  At our weekly sangha meetings it’s not uncommon to see the same spread of ages in our circles and I think that’s great.

On Friday night we had a little bit of weather roll in over the lake that brought some big wind gusts, flashing lightening, a beautiful mix of colors in the clouds, and just a slight sprinkle of rain.  We arrived around 7:00pm on Friday with time to set up our tents and enjoy the lake a bit before the sun went down.  And after the quick tempered winds passed by we were left with a very still and quiet night.

Sunrise over the Flathead Lake on Saturday August 10th

Sunrise over the Flathead Lake on Saturday August 10th

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