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Interfaith Work & Sangha Building

I’m currently reaching maximum saturation levels in terms of my usage of time spent on writing projects, events planning, managing meetings and gatherings, and attending a variety of other functions. I’m in the boat right now of practicing to say no when it comes to the question as to whether or not to take something else on – AND it’s going well, too, I might add.

Factoring into all the many lovely things I’ve chosen to do with my time is to: tell a story on stage at the Wilma Theater here in town on May 5th, as part of an interfaith concert and celebration event called Tangible Hope, submit an article to be considered for publication in the Mindfulness Bell for their sangha building issue (slated to come out in the fall), and write a short piece for the Community of Faith section in our local newspaper (for their May 12th edition).

Is interfaith work and sangha building different? Ultimately, no, I think not. When I look and engage through the lens of sangha building, I see clearly that sangha exists wherever I go. It’s all around me. Whether in the setting of my home sangha of Be Here Now or my larger Plum Village family, or my growing relationships and partnerships with local pastors and interfaith members as part of the Missoula Interfaith Collaborative (MIC), which I serve to represent our communities of Be Here Now and Open Way with, sangha is an action verb; it’s a quality of heartfulness that propels me in the direction of cultivating brotherhood and sisterhood.

From the story I plan on telling as part of the Tangible Hope concert event:

I remember a time a few years ago when I was standing in a long security line at the LAX airport – I had just spent a month on a retreat at a monastery in our tradition in southern CA, so I went from this beautiful, sequestered and quiet environment to a place that was decidedly quite different. As I was standing in the security line, I had the wonderful insight that I didn’t feel as though I had left a lovely setting with my extended sangha and was now tossed into a hectic and unpleasant environment with grumpy strangers; I had simply transitioned from one sangha to another: from my monastery sangha into my air traveling sangha! This insight allowed me to interact with the space and the people around me in a different way – a way that was more open, friendly, caring, and kind. So, when I look and operate through the lens of sangha I experience it wherever I go, all around me – I carry it with me and I actively create it.

If we are truly invested in building sangha – aka spiritual community – then we must practice to envelop it fully into our lives and not relegate it to just our own beloved circles consisting of those whom we share most closely and are most comfortable with. The true spirit of sangha building must be all inclusive; this is the only way we can serve as agents of change in the world and continue beautifully into the future.

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Mindful Speech on Social Media

My husband Mike and I just finished watching the documentary Jim & Andy, the Great Beyond about Jim Carrey’s role in Man on the Moon, where he played the comedian Andy Kaufman. It was so fantastic and Buddhist inspired that we googled the phrase: Is Jim Carrey a Buddhist. In doing so, we came across this article – on the nature of being human, having, and then healing, from depression, and letting go of our ideas of self – with accompanying short video, which was so lovely and inspiring that I wanted to share it (I would also super recommend watching the doc mentioned above): https://www.elephantjournal.com/2017/11/jim-carrey-explains-depression-in-the-best-way-ive-ever-heard/

In my zeal to want to support people in helping to reduce the collective and crippling stigma around matters concerning mental illness, I posted the above quote and link on our Be Here Now Community facebook page. While we have a fairly hefty following, considering we’re a small Montana-based mindfulness group, which clocks in at over 6,700 page likes, we don’t often get many comments on our posts, which I tend to fashion on the daily. But within short order, this particular post received this comment:

If I was as ignorant as this moron I would be depressed too!

Hmm. Welp. What is the most skillful action to take here, I pondered? The options seemed pretty clear. I could either leave the comment and do nothing. I could erase the comment. Or I could fashion a response, knowing that my reply, while written to the commenter, would be more intended to reach our followers and perhaps serve as a teaching moment in regards to how to respond with mindful, loving speech to hater-types on social media. Upon consulting with my husband, we quickly decided that erasing it, while easy to do, would be squelching the potential for dialog, and potentially keep people from feeling as though our community is a place where they can be heard and accepted, regardless of their views and whether or not we all agree with one another (which is an unrealistic impossibility anyway!). Simply leaving it untended to seemed to be the least skillful action to take – so crafting a response it was!

Here’s what I said in reply:

Hello _(insert person’s name here)__, while this is not typically the sort of comment we like to support, as skillful and loving speech is something we put great value on as a practice, every one is very much entitled to their own opinions, so we’d prefer not to simply erase it. On behalf of our community, with all due respect – truly – our views and ideas of others are incomplete and pitted with misunderstandings. We cannot presume to know anyone well, even those who are closest to us, as we see them through the lenses of our own experiences. May your day and night be well and to your liking. With Care, Nicole Dunn, Be Here Now program director.

NOTE: I originally signed the post as Be Here Now Community, in the interest of wanting to protect myself a bit from being potentially receiving personal backlash, but I quickly edited it and put my name instead, as it felt cleaner and more true to who I am as someone who puts great importance on showing up as authentically as possible.

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Inspiration vs Intimidation

I follow Tiny Buddha on twitter (see image credit above) and really appreciate what they put out into the twitter-sphere. I re-post a lot of their memes on our sangha’s Be Here Now Community facebook page. I came across this one above just the other day and it fits exceptionally well into a subject that’s been alive for me lately, both pre and post my solo spoken word performance and album release last Friday, on the nature of inspiration vs. intimidation.

Along these lines, I penned this in my journal early this morning:

I’m aware that I am a person who shows up big. Even when I’m not saying anything – even when I’m just…sitting there. I know because I know. Because I have eyes and ears and an open heart that renders me observant. I know because people have told me. And it’s not as though I’m putting on airs or trying to show up in a certain way. Still, it translates in generally one of two ways, depending on how comfortable the other person is in their own skin whilst in my midst. My “bigness” is either inspiring or intimidating, and sometimes it’s a mixture of both at the same time.

It used to be that I was inclined towards over-caretaking for those who were left to feel inferior in my wake, by dimming my light and trying to ratchet down my “bigness.” But I’m realizing more and more that this is not a sound plan. Adjusting my light to compensate for the insecurity of others only serves to limit who I really am.

My work is to do my work, to be as kind and full-hearted as possible – and have that be not only enough but ALL of it. People will have the experiences they do, whether I show up big or cower back from fear of causing others offense or discomfort. It’s not my job to manage their energy (as though I even could!), as long as I’m doing my very best to be as skillful and loving as possible.

This is a practice I imagine I’ll be working on for the rest of my days. Because while I’m invested in continuing to shine my light and showing up how I show up, I’m also concerned with the energy exchange that occurs in relationships, and want to be sensitive to how I might overpower people in certain situations. I’m aware that not every moment is a time to shine. Sometimes the best action is non-action, to step back a bit and allow others the space and opportunity to do their thing. Sometimes I do need to dim my light, in order to get out of someone else’s way, so they can shine.

 

 

 

 

 
 

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Beyond Words

I regard my spoken word show and album release – having taken place on Friday night – not as my own but as a collective endeavor of all those who offered their love, support, time, and encouragement from near and far away; all who influenced me along the way; and every life experience I’ve had the pleasure and opportunity to have thus far in my 38-years of living.

It’s hard to put certain things into words – which is really saying something when you’re a writer.

But any good writer knows that you can’t capture the feelings invoked by watching a sunset in the limiting net of words scribed on paper.

Any good writer knows that you can’t fully describe the sumptuous taste of chocolate; or the depth of ease felt after taking a walk in the woods or a dip in the river; or the warmth of spirit generated from being surrounded by the very best people.

My gratitude and love for all the people I have the distinct pleasure of knowing is vast, like the expanse of ocean, sky, and stretching of the universe that weaves us all together in its grace.

With all the heart that I can muster,
Nicole

pic taken yesterday at the Garden of One Thousand Buddhas in Arlee, Montana

 

 
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Posted by on March 11, 2018 in Special Events

 

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Runneth Over

I was reading the Fourteen Mindfulness trainings on Saturday morning and I guess this guy wanted to see what all the fuss was about :)

 

My cup runneth over with inspiration, information, and heartbreak for the people. I’m rather at a loss of how to reign it all in to fashion this post. Over the past week, I’ve had the opportunity to engage with a wealth of different people and topics that have given rise to a myriad of emotions, thoughts, and ideas.

Today marks the last day of our local 10-day 15th annual Big Sky Documentary Film Festival. During the span of the festival, I saw films highlighting a number of issues, including: domestic violence, the oppression of our LGBTQ community, Native land rights, coal mining and mountain top removal in West Virginia, and the plight of orangutans and loss of forested habitat.

As a representative of our Buddhist sangha and active participant in our local interfaith community, I also attended a couple of events with a retired Evangelical pastor who was brought to town by both our local Christian faith communities and the Sierra Club: Pastor Tri Robinson. Tri Robinson is a conservative, Republican, evangelical, pastor-rancher that is adamant that evangelical Christians should be working to address the climate crisis as part of their Christian calling. I attended the first U.S premier of the film showing of Cowboy and Preacher on Friday night, for which Tri was the focal subject. And last night my husband and I attended his keynote address on the university campus entitled: Creation Care and the Christian Church. Both events were simply fantastic and provided a great deal of nourishment and inspiration to me as a spiritual leader motivated strongly to help support others and care well for our planet.

And then there’s the issue of what’s been happening in the wake of the school shooting that took place in Florida recently. My 18-year-old stepson’s high school was the target of a number of threats this past week. As parents, we were alerted via email and recorded phone messages about each instance and kept well informed. On Thursday, I received an email stating that the school was on lock-down, due to a threat posed to the student body. And while, for better or worse – and probably for both – I didn’t regard the threats as being of a serious nature that would actually give rise to actual harm being inflicted, my heart broke for my stepson and the other students, teachers, and staff who were having to weather and situate themselves amid that atmosphere, however hollow and empty the threats might have been.

Over the past week, too, I met with a few different close friends and sangha members, some of whom were seeking support with a particular matter. I had the chance to experience the vulnerability of a few individuals in trusting me with their stories and struggles, which is a privilege and honor that humbles me deeply.

Yesterday, as part of my Mindful Morning Saturday routine, I watched a Dharma talk given on February 12th by Brother Phap Man, a monk in the Plum Village tradition who resides at Blue Cliff Monastery. His talk – which I watched in two sessions and finished this morning – was entitled: Healing Ourselves, Healing Our World, and focused on matters of racial discrimination, sexism, white privilege, and detrimental cultural biases.

I met with two hospice patients. I spent a day nannying for two young boys. I worked to pull together logistics for our upcoming spring family retreat, for which I serve as co-director, in charge of registration and also putting together and running the kids programming. I met with a good friend who’s offered to be my sound guy in the venue for my upcoming scary new adventure of having a CD release party and solo spoken word performance. And there’s more, too.

So much happens in the span of one week’s time. And some weeks, like this past one, involve a bit more than usual, in the realm of sensory input.

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Posted by on February 25, 2018 in Everyday Practice

 

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Choosing to Shine

A few years ago, I started on a journey to practice shining more. Shining my talents, abilities, and forms of creative expression. For me, shining means stepping into something and not letting fear run the show. I came to see how often I shirked back from shining – out of fear. Fear of ego and fear of out-shining others.

In a little under 3-weeks, the culmination of my journey thus far will manifest in a solo spoken word performance and CD release party here in town. To say that I am nervous would be a remarkable understatement. But, as I’ve been sharing with folks lately, I’m proud of myself because despite having feelings of doubt and fear and uncertainty, I’m still doing it. I’m still moving forward, one scary moment at a time. My tracks are recorded and mastered; my CD’s are ordered; the gig is set; my booklet of lyrics is at the print shop. It’s happening!

If you’re interested in checking out my event page for this upcoming gig: https://spark.adobe.com/page/hC5Y8cQ32xv1e/

Something I’ve realized over the years is that fear isn’t rational, which is a big part of what makes it challenging to work with. If fear were a rational process, it would be fairly easy to talk our way out of it. But we all know that engaging in an intellectual dialog when it comes to a certain fear we have is futile. For example, let’s say we’re afraid of flying. Would it reduce your fear, even an iota, if someone were to give you the facts and statistics about how flying is safer than driving? No, probably not. Fear cannot be addressed in the head, it has to be addressed in the heart of our experience. In order to work with fear, we have to get out of our head and into our heart.

So that’s what I’ve been working on. Since fear lives in the head, I’ve been breathing in and practicing to exhale and delve deeper into the fragrant and calming waters of the heart. I’ve been practicing to use gentle and loving speech with myself: I see you fear. You are present and part of my experience AND I’m choosing not to let you run the show. You can hang out and all – but I’m choosing to shine.

I love that the following poem is so well-known. I’ve encountered it in a variety of places over the years – my most favorite spot being the middle school my stepson went to a few years ago, where an excerpt hung in large lettering on a banner in the hallway.

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Posted by on February 18, 2018 in Everyday Practice

 

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Deer Park Wrap Up

Tonight at my local sangha, Be Here Now, Mike and I, and a few of our sangha friends who recently spent time on retreat at Deer Park, will be offering a Deer Park (DP) retreat sharing panel as part of our format. There will be 5 of us on the panel and we’ll each share for 5 minutes or so about whatever is alive in our heart and our practice in regards to our time at DP. I plan on starting with a short intro and background about DP and then after the panel we’ll open up for Q & A. If there’s time, I also plan on showing a 10-minute DP video montage I put together from footage I took in January during our 3-week stay. And if there’s not time, then it’ll be an addendum after we close the group, for those wanting to stick around to watch it. I’m looking forward to this evening and hearing from my other friends about their retreat stay!

Here’s what I plan on saying for my sharing:

The importance of sangha practice is not new to me but I did delve deeper into this insight when I was at DP this last time. Being in close contact and interaction with my sangha – whether it’s my local home sangha, larger statewide Montana sangha, or the community at DP – is not an additional component of my mindfulness practice, like adding parmesan cheese to the top of a bowl of pasta. Sangha practice is equivalent to the tomatoes needed to make the sauce. It’s a necessary and critical ingredient.

Despite how strong and diligent my practice is with peppering in a variety of mindfulness tools and exercises throughout the day, if I were to stop attending sangha and stop attending retreats, my practice would eventually fall off and take a nose dive. Sangha practice is not just something nice to sprinkle in to my life when I have time or when I’m really craving connection, sangha practice is the center of the wooden wheel, which all the spokes splay out from.

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