Our 2017 Montana spring family retreat, in the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh, in pictures:
Tag Archives: community
I’ve been thinking lately about the importance of recognizing and holding both elements of sameness & non-sameness, when it comes to our relationships and interactions with others. Too often, we’re stuck in operating from the perspective of either one OR the other, rather than being able to blend both together. In other words, we either think: Yes, we’re all the same! We all have the same woes and struggles and the same desire to be happy. There is no separation. Or, we think: I’m right and that dude’s wrong! I’m like this and that person is like that and we’re on opposite/opposing sides, we are sooo different.
I feel as though this is a tricky topic to address. Many of the teachings foundational to mindfulness, or the Buddha, are of a rather complex nature and extremely easy to misunderstand or misinterpret. One of the biggest factors in this complexity is our western mindset. Our common cultural tendencies for goal-setting, intellectual processing, needing to see results, and our propensity for ego development, mental dispersion, and emotional disconnect. All of that is to say: This post might be a bit of a schlog to read, for a few different reasons.
I’m reminded of a great quote from Albert Einstein: If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough. I love this insight and try to keep it in mind when writing, giving a talk, offering a consult, or helping to lead or guide a group. This post, however, may wind up being a clear indication that I need to further my understanding :)
Let’s see if I can whittle it down: If we think we are all ONLY the same, we lose sight of the variety of experiences, causes, and conditions that impact and affect others. If we think we are all ONLY different, we lose sight of our shared humanity, and reduce greatly our capacity for developing understanding and compassion. Hmm. That actually turned out pretty well as a simplified account of my own thoughts around this particular subject.
Non-duality is rather a tangled mess for our western minds to wrap themselves around. To deeply understand that life rarely, if ever, consists of a “this” or “that” arrangement takes a fair amount of time and practice, in order to untangle our thick web of misperceptions. We have a wealth of strongly held notions in regards to the many pairs of duality that we often get so stuck and mired down in: right/wrong, good/bad, yes/no, republican/democrat, happy/sad, same/different. In reality, the truth of life’s very essence most often resides in a mixture of both dualistic pairs happening at the same time. Rather than a situation or occurrence fitting neatly into the box labeled “right” or “wrong” the chances are more likely that it could fit into both boxes, simultaneously.
Ah, the great confusing beauty of the teachings around non-duality!
Yep. This is me sharing about brushing my teeth. Riveting topic eh?! Actually, it is! This is precisely what engaged Buddhism is all about: Finding ways in which to bring the art of mindfulness into every aspect of our daily life.
One of the new mindfulness practices I’ve taken up recently centers around brushing my teeth. When I got back from Deer Park Monastery at the end of January, after a 3-week retreat stay, I came to see just how dispersed my energy was while brushing my teeth. As soon as I hastily squeezed a dollop of toothpaste onto my brush in the mornings I would quickly take to leaving the bathroom, and set to doing a myriad of things that really had no business in trying to be accomplished while in the midst of brushing. I might go outside and start my car to warm it up or prepare a fresh cup of tea or ready my lunch to take with me to work. I would do all sorts of things around the house with my toothbrush protruding from my mouth. I would actively brush for a bit and then proceed back to whatever multi-tasking “urgent” matter needed tending to. It was comical!
So my new practice is to “stay put”. To not leave the bathroom and to stay there in front of the sink while brushing my teeth. What I’m experiencing as a natural by-product is that by simply staying put I am also slowing down. It reminds me of how when I practice a day of silence, slowing down happens in tandem, seemingly on its own accord. By staying put I am automatically able to slow down, which affords me the opportunity to connect more readily with what I am doing. No longer am I hurriedly scrubbing my teeth as a sort of task to get out of the way. I’m practicing awareness of my teeth, of how fortunate I am to have them, and to care for them by slowing down and paying attention to the act of brushing. I’m practicing awareness of my breathing and of my gratitude for having running water. I’m practicing to feel my feet on the ground beneath me as I stand in front of the sink.
A couple of weeks ago a sangha member shared about how they’ve been practicing to slow down their personal teeth brushing regiment as a way to strengthen the development of patience, a particular quality they felt very weak on. Having not spoken of my own practice around this same subject, I was delighted to hear her timely sharing. The power and importance of having a community of support, a sangha, never ceases to inspire and astound me.
It’s still a new practice for me. It’s not uncommon for me to catch myself just as I’m about to leave the bathroom with my toothbrush in tow. But I do catch it. As my foot prepares to cross the threshold of the bathroom door, I remember. Then I smile to my strong habit energy, before returning back to my “staying put” spot in front of the sink.
To read in more detail about Ethan’s 7-Point Plan: http://www.ethannichtern.com/7-point-practice-plan-for-engaged-mindfulness-in-2017/
Yesterday was a long day of LOTS of sitting on a meditation cushion at our local mindfulness center, with very little active movement, which my physical body is not a huge fan of. And it was also lovely, too, as not only was I able to partake in an OI Day of Mindfulness (OI: Order of Interbeing), but it meant I was able to see our out of town sangha friends, of whom I only gather with 3-4 times a year.
Our Day of Mindfulness included: sitting meditation, indoor walking meditation, reciting the 14 Mindfulness Trainings, listening to short talks from three of our Montana and Wyoming area OI members, silent lunch, a dharma/personal check-in round, and closing remarks from our local Dharma teacher Rowan. It went from 9:30am-5:00pm. My husband and I left at 5:00pm, in order to return home to our son, while others stayed to have dinner together at the center. My nerve condition, and associating chronic pain, had been so aggravated by the hours spent mostly sitting that I darted out to our car quite rapidly after the final sound of the bell – whoosh, I was gone! What I’ve been appreciating reflecting on, since getting home last night, is how strong my practice of self-care is – which took me years of honing in, I might add, and is a continual practice. Now, when my pain levels rise and my mental energy plummets in unison, I know what I need to do and I do it.
A big part of my self-care routine is in understanding how physical pain, just like everything else, is of the nature to change. When my pain level rises, I practice to remember that by prioritizing rest, using a few simple aids (such as using a heating blanket and soaking my legs in a hot bath), and being attentive to my body mechanics, my pain will subside to a large degree, after a certain length of time. I no longer fight against the pain or my body, wishing they were other then they are. I’ve learned a different way of engaging with myself when pain arises, and it makes such an immense difference in my experience.
As Thay says: “The Buddha said that you shouldn’t amplify your pain by exaggerating the situation. He used the image of someone who has just been hit by an arrow. A few minutes later, a second arrow strikes him in exactly the same spot. When the second arrow hits, the pain is not just doubled; it is many times more painful and intense.
So when you experience pain, whether is physical or mental, you have to recognize it just as it is and not exaggerate it. You can say to yourself, “Breathing in, I know this is only a minor physical pain. I can very well make friends and peace with it. I can still smile to it.”
If you recognize the pain as it is and don’t exaggerate it, then you can make peace with it, and you won’t suffer as much. But if you get angry and revolt against it, if you worry too much and imagine that you’re going to die very quickly, then the pain will be multiplied one hundred times. That is the second arrow, the extra suffering that comes from exaggeration. You should not allow it to arise. This is very important. It was recommended by the Buddha: Don’t exaggerate and amplify the pain.”
– From Shambhala Sun magazine (now known as Lion’s Roar), January 2012
2017 Deer Park Daily Musings
Written during a retreat I attended from January 6th-27th (though was unable to post until the Internet became available once I returned home)
Background Info & Terminology: Deer Park Monastery is rooted in the mindfulness tradition of Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh and is situated in Escondido, CA, north of San Diego. Mike and I choose to voluntarily lodge separately when we go to Deer Park during the winter retreat, which affords us the best of both worlds: having our own retreat experiences and able to spend time together 2 or 3 days a week. Mike stays with the brothers in Solidity Hamlet and I stay with the sisters in Clarity Hamlet, which are a short 10-minute walk from each other but do operate quite independently.
Laypeople: Also called lay friends or laymen and laywomen; those of us who practice in this tradition but are not monks or nuns.
Monastics: The collective group of both monks and nuns.
Clarity Hamlet: Where the nuns, also called Sisters, reside. Laywomen stay here as well.
Solidity Hamlet: Where the monks, also called Brothers, reside. Laymen and couples/families stay here as well.
Thay: Refers to Thich Nhat Hanh, meaning “teacher” in Vietnamese
Thursday January 26th, 2017
A new dark moon has come
Darkening the sky with stars
With the tides, I smile
Evening settles in
Clear skies promise stars to shine
I exhale with ease
Today, I did the unthinkable: I warmed up enough to take my thick hoodie and alpaca socks off! The sun shone with warmth and golden brilliance. It was splendid in a way that words cannot convey. And we had a lazy afternoon in which to thoroughly enjoy it, without any scheduled programs to call us indoors. Since it was also Lay Friends Day, I was able to spend it with Mike, too!
I am dearly looking forward to returning home tomorrow. Home to our son, our cats, our little house, our mountains, our winter, our sangha, our sweet Missoula. I’m also looking forward to going to the airport and engaging in the grand adventure of flight travel! So great!
I’m also looking forward to having access to my own personal space. The only-child within me, calls out for solitude – for a string of moments to myself, without the clutter of others. Everywhere I go here it seems there is someone in close tow. My hut is always occupied, and even on the scads of trails spiraling around the monastery, there is always the possibility of someone just around the next bend.
Silence is not easy to come by. It stows itself away, easily succumbing to swells of fitful clamor. I look for its shade, ravenously defending it when finally, by such rare graces, it appears. Sometimes I feel as though I am alone in my quest for silence – that there are few people who’s heart, like mine, connects more openly in its cradling embrace.
Earlier today we had a dharma sharing circle with the lay friends up in Solidity Hamlet, where we were prompted to speak about why we came to Deer Park. At first it seemed to me to be a rather un-important question – shouldn’t it be obvious why we’ve all come here? But as I considered it more deeply, I realized it was, in fact, a vital question to ask ourselves. It also reminded me of something Brother Phap Hai said in his last Dharma talk about how we need to routinely ask ourselves why we practice mindfulness. I shared about how I come here to: deepen my concentration on the practice of coming home to myself, to strengthen my sovereignty, to delve further into the true nature of life, and to move a metal folding chair and be completely aware of moving a metal folding chair. I spoke about how I equally look forward to both coming here and returning home. And I spoke about how I don’t come here to “retreat” from my daily life, to leave it behind as some sort of “other” reality, but to more fully engage with it. These are some of the reasons why I came here this year.
I’m a mindfulness practitioner because this practice enables me to water the seeds of joy and happiness in myself and in the world – and the more water, the better! And retreats offer a nice, heavy saturating dose of rain (in more ways than one!).
Random Acts of Kindness Week: February 12th-18th
Let’s get our kindness on! :) I’ve been enjoying making these, in preparation to help celebrate RAK Week: