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Digging the Well

On Wednesday night, I attended a banquet dinner on campus with visiting guest speaker Ann Holmes Redding, as part of DiverseU, entitled: A Piece of the Peace. Ann is a former Episcopal priest, who was defrocked in April 2009 for having become a Muslim in March 2006. She is a faith leader, an author, a public speaker, and a teacher, who identifies with being both of Christian and Islamic faith.

Among many other things I greatly appreciated in her talk, she shared this parable:

“The truth was a mirror in the hands of God. It fell, and broke into pieces. Everybody took a piece of it, and they looked at it and thought they had the truth.”

― Jalaluddin Rumi

One of the things I most enjoy, is attending evenings such as this. Opportunities that allow me to practice breaking down what Thich Nhat Hanh calls our illusion of separateness.

In a stroke of good timing, I felt attending this particular evening paired well with another topic that has been circulating for me recently, centered around our local Festival of the Dead (FOD) celebration – which took place last night – and the concerning matter of appropriation. I’ve been a part of FOD for a number of years, as a performer with Unity Dance & Drum, a local dance troupe. This year, the social outcry about the issue of appropriation, in regards to our Missoulaified FOD, reached a record high, to the point of causing enough ruckus as to greatly deflate the participation and attendance at the parade procession down Higgins Avenue last night.

In the interest of trying to further find my way around this confusing topic, I wrote this in my journal early this morning:

Appropriation: something (as money) set aside by formal action for a specific use. (Merriam-Webster, circa 1997) Apparently, this is one of those words commandeered by the masses and then sent to drift on an ice flow far away from its origination. So long, old chum! Safe sailing on the seas and swells of change! Because as I understand it, appropriation is a dirty, no good, rotten word with negative connotations – but I’m not getting that vibe from Webster’s definition.

In the same kind of funny way that femme fatale follows feminism in our household dictionary, it seems we’ve re-calibrated the word appropriation to match our western culture’s sometimes over-correcting tendency to be offended on behalf of a people who are not offended enough, by the actions of blundering white people, or BWP.

Please understand, I include myself in the BWP demographic and admit readily and upfront my ignorance when it comes to all things white privilege related – it’s also likely that I’m more of a femme fatale than a feminist, so there’s that to consider, too.

While there’s part of me that wants to generate more of an understanding about the culturally important topic of appropriation, another part of me wants to relegate it to those who are better equipped to serve directly in its deconstruction and called to guide its direction. Cuz we can’t all dig appropriately sizes wells when it comes to all subjects in need of attention and transformation. There’s only so much digging one person can do. And we pick our 1, 2 or 3 spots and dig there, alongside others who are digging there, too. And occasionally we lift our heads up, look around, and take solace in the fact that there are a multitude of others digging simultaneously in a myriad of different places.

For example, I gravitate towards hospice work and matters concerning aging and death and dying – do you? If your answer is no, I bet you’re glad to know I’m digging the well here in this particular spot, even if you have no interest in joining me.

We cannot do the work of a million hearts with the one life we’ve been so richly given.

And this truth does not have to be deflating.

Do not allow the fact that you can’t do it all keep you from doing all you can.

Pick up your shovel and dig where you’re called.

(and do so with gladness and joy)

 

 

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You Are What You Think

This is me preparing for another teaching-style talk at my local sangha Be Here Now. So, while it may not be the most riveting post for you to read, my much-appreciated friends, it does offer me a great platform and outlet in which to figure out what it is I’d like to say – and I am reminded of the ending statement I recently heard from Hemingway’s acceptance speech from 1954 for winning the Nobel Prize: “…A writer should write what he has to say and not speak it.” Of course, my motivation lies in writing about it in order to speak about it, but I am nourished by this statement just the same.

I’ll also be giving this talk jointly with my husband Mike, which we’ve been doing once a year for the past 2-3 years. We’ve entitled it: You are what you think and we’ll be offering it on Monday night, October 23rd.

On an introductory note, for those of you sticking around to read this through :), the topic for this talk was spurred by coming to the realization of how a lack of self-acceptance is one of the largest obstacles on the path of healing, growth, transformation, and well-being. In having been attending a meditation group virtually every week for the past 15 years, where we have an open sharing circle built into our format, it’s become very clear to me just how much people give themselves a hard time about ALL kinds of things. But it’s only recently been an insight of mine that this is in fact one of the greatest roadblocks we face in regards to living more mindfully and skillfully, with more ease and balance.

My husband will be talking first, for about 20-minutes, and plans on focusing his segment on highlighting what a thought and a view are and what the differences are between them. The idea being that our long-held views are what shape our thoughts, and our thoughts are what fuel our words and actions. Most of us are not well in touch with what our views are – our deeply held beliefs that have shaped us and continue to shape us. A guiding quote for us is one from Thich Nhat Hanh:

Attachment to views is the greatest impediment to spiritual growth. – TNH

For my portion of the talk I plan on opening with a psychological exercise that I recently learned, which will prompt folks to get in touch with how they talk to themselves internally while in the process of doing it.

As for what I’ll say, here goes:

If it were as easy as just stopping giving ourselves a hard time we would’ve all done that by now. Most of us know when it is we’re being hard on ourselves or beating ourselves up over something. So just stopping this particular habit is most likely not a realistic thing to expect to have happen. And the reasons are 1. We’ve been practicing this internal dialog for probably our whole lives, so it’s deeply ingrained and thus will take time to transform and 2. Because when we get stuck in our intellect it keeps us from developing the necessary actions it takes to embody whatever it is we’re looking to work on in regards to our own growth and well-being. So just because we know something in our mind intellectually doesn’t mean it translates into an embodied experience, which is what’s necessary in order for us to progress on our path. Knowing is not enough – knowing is a critical first step, but we need to pair knowing with doing, in order for transformation and healing to take place.

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A Hopi Elder Speaks

A Hopi Elder Speaks

“You have been telling the people that this is the Eleventh Hour, now you must go back and tell the people that this is the Hour.  And there are things to be considered . . .

Where are you living?
What are you doing?
What are your relationships?
Are you in right relation?
Where is your water?
Know your garden.
It is time to speak your Truth.
Create your community.
Be good to each other.
And do not look outside yourself for the leader.”

Then he clasped his hands together, smiled, and said, “This could be a good time!”

“There is a river flowing now very fast.  It is so great and swift that there are those who will be afraid.  They will try to hold on to the shore.   They will feel they are torn apart and will suffer greatly.

“Know the river has its destination.  The elders say we must let go of the shore, push off into the middle of the river, keep our eyes open, and our heads above water.   And I say, see who is in there with you and celebrate.  At this time in history, we are to take nothing personally, least of all ourselves.  For the moment that we do,  our spiritual growth and journey comes to a halt.

“The time for the lone wolf is over.  Gather yourselves!  Banish the word struggle from you attitude and your vocabulary.  All that we do now must be done in a sacred manner and in celebration.

“We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.”

— attributed to an unnamed Hopi elder

Hopi Nation

Oraibi, Arizona

 
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Posted by on September 13, 2017 in Everyday Practice

 

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Three Jewels

In the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh, the three jewels in Buddhism (the buddha, the dharma, and the sangha) are emphasized not as something outside of ourselves. We are encouraged instead to practice taking refuge in them from deep within our own being. In this spirit, I have written the following verses, which may serve as a guide on our path of practice:

Taking refuge in the Buddha in myself – the one who shows me the way in this life – I am committed to cultivating mindfulness, concentration, and insight in order to strengthen my sovereignty, stability, ease, and joy. I will be diligent in continuously training in the art of knowing, befriending, and caring well for myself with kindness.

Taking refuge in the Dharma in myself – the way of understanding and love – I am committed to cultivating skillful and useful thoughts, speech, and actions in order to create as little harm as possible for myself, others, and the Earth. I will be diligent in continuously training in the art of developing, deepening, and extending compassion towards all beings.

Taking refuge in the Sangha in myself – the community that lives in harmony and awareness – I am committed to cultivating the bonds of brotherhood and sisterhood in order to move beautifully into the future. I will be diligent in continuously training in the art of relationship building, firm in the understanding of how our inter-connectedness navigates our path in practice and in life.

When we “practice wholeheartedly, we ourselves may become an inexhaustible source of peace and joy for our loved ones and for all species.” And this is my fervent hope.

 

 

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American Eclipse 2017

Standing still in one place will grant you the opportunity to bear witness to a full solar eclipse every 375 years. Our moment, was yesterday.

I had been on the fence about traveling the necessary 4-hours south that it would take to be inside the path of totality. Thank goodness our minds were made up by someone who knew far better than we did: a NASA historian we heard speak at the public library, who described the difference between seeing a partial vs. a full solar eclipse to be the difference between reading about chocolate and eating it.

Not knowing what to expect, we prepared for possible pandemonium. Even though we were only making a day-trip, we brought sleeping bags and a tent, in the event we got stuck somewhere overnight; 7-gallons of water, in case there was none to be found; food, playing cards, a cook stove, camp chairs, and cash, like the Idaho eclipse website suggested, just in case the card machines got overloaded and went on strike. We were geared up for the “worse-case scenario” – of course, we were so far removed from an actual worse-case scenario that we would’ve had to hop a train, two jets, and an ocean-liner to even scratch the surface – but our spirits were riding high on the seas of all things hope-related.

Equally fantastic to witnessing the stellar phenomenon of a total solar eclipse was the kind, caring and sweet nature of the pop-up community we were surrounded by in Hamer, Idaho. In the last 2010 census, Hamer, Idaho clocked in at 48 residents – up from 12 in 2000 – and is currently estimated at having a population of 91. So, it’s pretty small. But yesterday, for a few brief hours, Hamer swelled to around 200 wonderful folks and we all enjoyed this once-in-a-lifetime experience together as a global family of strangers.

Today, I sit in awe of the power, inspiration, and magnitude of both the cosmos and community. Each and every moment changes our character and perspective, in some regard. Yesterday’s eclipse viewing might very well turn out to be one of the more influential changes I’ve experienced. It’s beauty was truly a sight to behold and cherish. What a splendid and magnificent universe we live in.

To view my amateur video of the eclipse from Hamer, Idaho:

 
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Posted by on August 22, 2017 in Community, Travel

 

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Nourish to Flourish

For those of you who follow along with my blog here, you may recall that I sometimes use this platform to work on upcoming practice related talks I’ll soon be giving, usually at my local sangha Be Here Now, as it helps me to plan out and organize my thoughts about what I want to share.  This time, however, I’ll be offering a talk to a group of volunteers with a local nonprofit called CASA, which stands for: court appointed special advocates. (From their website: CASA of Missoula provides independent, trained advocates for the best interests of children within the judicial system who are at substantial risk or have experienced abuse or neglect. We provide consistent, long-term advocacy until every child resides in a safe, permanent home.)

As I was asked to talk about the relationship between our energy output and our energy input, I’ve titled this talk Nourish to Flourish.

I’ve often thought about offering these kind of support sessions to volunteer organizations or in work-place settings, as both non-profits and many professions require annual trainings, continuing education credits or have wellness programs built-in. So, this is my first step in that direction.

Talk Prep:

I’d like us to start by having us all count how many breaths we take in the span of 1-minute. And we’ll try our best not to alter our natural breathing rate as much as possible. (Bring a timer and set for 1-minute – instruct folks to remember their number.)

Now, I’d like us to do 5-minutes of quiet sitting together, to settle into the room and this time here together, as simply a way to help us bring our attention and presence into this space and transition from wherever it is we just came from. So I’ll invite us to gently close our eyes and softly focus our attention on the sensations of our breathing in and breathing out…feeling as our chest expands and contracts….feeling as our stomach rises and falls…and noticing how we’re feeling, tuning into our body and our mind…(monitor time for 5-minutes, sound bell to start and end) (NOTE: I find that using the pronoun ‘our’ when doing guided meditations, deep relaxations, or in practice talks in general has a more communal and relational feel to it, verses the more common ‘you’ or ‘your.’ It is also has a less “preachy” or “instructional” air to it when I include myself in the mix by using the word ‘our.’ I mean, we’re all in this together, right? I’m practicing, too!)

So, let’s re-test our breathing rate. Again, for the span of 1-minute we’ll count how many breaths we take, without trying to alter our breathing. (Time for 1-minute.) Ask: How many people found that your number went down after the 5-minutes of sitting? How many people found that it stayed about the same? And did anyone find that it increased? It might interest you to know that the optimal breathing rate for highest functioning and good health is around 6 breaths per minute, with the medical norm around 12 breaths per minute, and the average adult is now breathing even faster, at about 15-20 breaths per minute. And severely ill patients have an even higher rate.

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Time

Last week I turned 38 years old. On the eve of my birthday, a sangha friend passed away. Alison Matthews, age 63.

63 is an age generally considered to be on the younger side of someone passing away. 63 is not old age. I am continually reminded about the preciousness of life, especially in the wake of others who have passed on. Earlier today, I was visiting with a hospice patient. During our weekly visits, I’ve taken to bringing a newspaper with me and reading aloud the news. As I was reading the Today In History section I came across this: In 1937, American composer and pianist George Gershwin died at a Los Angeles hospital of a brain tumor; he was 38.

One never knows when our time will expire. So often, we live as though we have a limitless supply of time. In reading world news and local obituaries, however, I routinely come across people who’ve died at all ages and stages in their life. For me, this serves as an important reminder: there’s no guarantee that we will see old age. And that applies to myself, as well as my beloved family and friends.

Being in touch with death and dying keeps me in close contact with my gratitude for life. Volunteering with hospice affords me the opportunity to train in the art of living life well, with however much time I have. And I am deeply touched and nourished by all of the patients I have the honor and privilege to meet with, who serve as my teachers in this regard.

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Posted by on July 11, 2017 in Everyday Practice

 

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