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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Serving with Grace

Last weekend, we enjoyed our local spring family retreat up on the Flathead Lake with our Montana sangha family. Twice a year, we organize local 3-day residential retreats: one in the spring and one in the fall. And each spring is a family retreat, where we invite children to attend alongside their parents. This year we had 59 adults and 25 young people, aged 3-15, for a total of 84 people.

Each spring, I serve as co-director on the retreat planning team. I also head up the children’s programming with my good friend Amy, so essentially I am on two different branches for organizing the retreat. We have one team for: managing all of the logistics with the camp facility we use, registration, and organizing the schedule for the adults and program elements with our visiting teacher(s) and another team for planning the kids programs that we offer.

Knowing I serve in this co-director capacity each spring, friends often ask me if these spring retreats are an actual retreat for me. My reply this year has been: Not in the classic sense of the word, no. These retreats for me are a rich opportunity to engage with work as spiritual and joyful practice.

I’ve recently started reading this book:

Serving with grace is a deep aspiration for me on the path of practice. And to speak to my full aspiration, I would add: serving with grace and kindness.

Supporting our young people and their parents to come on retreat; to be in touch with the nature and landscape of the lake and the surrounding woods; to be in touch with the Dharma and the Sangha is a great joy and a true calling for me. It’s also exhausting work too. But gosh, I have no qualms about getting worn out temporarily from undertaking such a lovely endeavor. Sometimes, putting all of our physical fuel into something can fill up the heart tank and gear us up for the next thing that comes along. The physical tank is easy to refill: food, rest, movement. But keeping the heart tank full, that’s where the real work happens.

 

Non-Attachment

In Buddhism, we have teachings centered around non-attachment. But how do we apply this and make sense of it as laypeople – with romantic partners and close friends and kids and family and pet people?

And aren’t we also encouraged – neigh urged – in our particular mindfulness tradition, to take refuge in the sangha? To lean on and lean into our people for love and support, care and connection?

How do we reconcile this paradox?

I think I figured it out. Ready?

I think what it comes down to is that it’s not that we need to love, depend, and rely on our people any less than we are – it’s not that we need to un-attach from them, necessarily. It’s that we need to simultaneously love and depend and rely on our own self too. We need to enjoy and revel in our own company, just as much as we enjoy and revel in the company of our closest people.

Perhaps non-attachment, then, refers to our ability to keep good company with our own self, right alongside of giving mad love to those we adore and cherish when we’re in their company.

The Five Powers

Yesterday, I enjoyed a lovely Day of Mindfulness (DOM) with our sister Sangha Open Sky up north on the Flathead Lake, where snow, sun, and delightful people were in abundant supply. As part of our DOM, one of our local Dharma teachers, Greg Grallo, gave a talk on the Five Powers. As usual, I took a bunch of notes throughout his talk – and also as usual, I would like to share some of them here (along with some pics I took!) :)

In the back of the Plum Village Chanting and Recitation book, it includes this description in the glossary section:

Five Faculties: Faith, energy, mindfulness, concentration, and wisdom

Five Powers: Same as the Five Faculties, except that as powers they cannot be shaken by their opposites (e.g., energy cannot be swayed by laziness).

Notes I penned down during Greg’s Dharma talk:

Five Powers: faith, effort, mindfulness, concentration, insight

Faith: not a blind faith but one based on personal experience; to have faith in our own capacity to awaken; to trust in our practice and our sangha.

It’s good to ask ourselves from time to time: why do I practice? why do I go to sangha? why do I drive on snowy roads to attend days of mindfulness like this?

When our faith is strong, our effort is effortless. Effort that isn’t based on trying to do the practice “right” doesn’t wear us out, in fact it gives us energy. This kind of effort is based on generating good seeds and keeping good seeds alive and active, and also involves working to not water negative seeds.

There’s a difference between avoidance of suffering (based on fear) and changing the peg (my wording, not his) in order to water the seeds of joy in an effort to help care for and tend well to our suffering with more skill. Denial can be fear-based OR it can involve turning away from it with conscious participation, with the intention to return to it once we have more strength and balance.

Thay teaches that mindfulness is a pathway not a tool. Mindfulness as a path leads to the end of suffering. Mindfulness when used as a tool might be applied to acute stress but it isn’t addressing the underlying difficulties that exist; when used as a tool, our suffering will continue to resurface.

When our concentration is not strong, mindfulness can arise and then quickly dissipate. When our concentration is strong, it allows the other four powers to be strong.

The first four powers lead up to understanding/insight. And when we have insight, it gives us faith that our practice is working, so it loops back around.

When your faith is low, that is a wonderful time to go to sangha. Sangha practice encourages us to come back to the wheel of the Five Powers.

I penned this in my journal yesterday:

Like a sunflower’s face tracks the sun, my full attention falls in line with the sound of the bell.

I’m so very grateful for being part of this practice tradition and for having such regular and lovely opportunities to join together with my sangha family.

During our discussion group time yesterday, I shared my answer to the question Greg posed in his talk: Why do we drive on snowy roads to come here to sit and breathe? The short answer is that while I practice every day to water the positive seeds within myself – such as joy, ease, mindfulness, connection, friendliness, gratitude – that watering is more akin to a sprinkle here and a sprinkle there, as might be issued from a watering can, whereas attending days of mindfulness and retreats and showing up every week to sangha is like turning on the garden hose on those same seeds. Prioritizing my practice – which in this case equated to driving 2-hours north on winter roads to attend a Day of Mindfulness with my sangha family – is truly the best use of my time.

Just as a vegetable garden cannot be watered just one time and be expected to bear fruit, so too is the case for my internal seeds which bear the fruit of well-being. In order for beneficial seeds to continue growing and strengthening in our life, they need regular and ongoing tending to, which requires a good and thorough dousing from time to time :)

 

If you’re interested in listening to Greg’s talk:

 

An Ushering Forward

December 2018

End of year letter of support & encouragement and an ushering in of 2019

offered by Nicole Dunn, BHN Founder & Program Director

 

The ticking of the clock is real, dear friends. The incessant chattering of time and the accompanying approach of growing older are a thing – a thing not to fear and run panic-stricken into the streets mind you, but a thing to keep closeful watch over, so as not to fritter our time away on trinkets of thought and harmful actions, in the interest of time being short and life being precious.

We are ripe with excuses to run, to hide, to distract our attention away from what is true and present and even good. We know what medicine we would do well to take yet we do not take it. We stand anchored in our own way, unable to move past our own barrier of self.

It is important to hold time in our peripheral vision; to know it is there like a friend reminding us to live and love well every chance we get. Still we mustn’t be beholden to it. We mustn’t listen to every tick, tick, ticking like a time bomb about to explode. We must allow it to inform our path forward without putting it in charge of dictating where we go. We must regard it as sunset or rise and greet it warmly with reverence, knowing we cannot hold onto it or make it last.

With a tender ushering, as though we were to sway a fragile bud to open, we can learn what it really means to Be Here Now, with all of the beauty and messiness that it entails.

We must learn and practice to live a non-fiction life – to let go of all that is not serving us well, largely: the notion that this moment should be some other moment. For our romantic partner to be some other partner – our job to be some other job – our bank account to be some other bank account – the landscape outside our window to be some other landscape – the weather (exterior or interior) to be some other weather – our hardship to be some other hardship.

As we embark upon the new year, let us stretch into our discomforts. Let us unfurl just a little bit, into those places we avoid like the plague. Let us dance wide in the joyful field of our heartspace, but not as though no one is watching. Dance wide as though everyone is dancing with you, because they are.

 

Breathing & Smiling,

Nicole Dunn

Chān Diêu Hoa,

True Wonderful Flower

Snippets of thought

Last week, I attended a weekend of mindfulness up on the Flathead Lake, hosted by our sister sangha Open Sky, entitled: Be Still and Heal. To help lead it, they brought in Dharma teacher Barbara Newell (formerly Sister Pine in our Plum Village tradition).

I thought I’d craft this post in order to share some pics and a few things I jotted down in my journal over the course of the weekend.

Dec 8th, Early morning journal entry:

Words can do only so much to incite action. Therefore, we should be advised as to when to put them down, in order to lift our gaze and set to the work of embodying their application in our life.

Words are nothing on a page. Words are empty of value when left to swirl around like a goldfish in the murky waters of our minds. And yet, words matter like the pulling of tides. They matter like thunder approaching warning us to weather coming. They can pierce our thickened armor as though it weren’t made of steel, penetrating our hearts like an assassin’s blade. And if I were told I would die tomorrow, I would cling to them for salvation, solace, and camaraderie.

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Think Before You Depart

Sometimes – like now – my spirit wanes around the truth I’ve captured in this sentence, from a recent spoken word piece I’ve written: “Self-absorption is the rampant plague of our time.”

Recent example:
On Wednesday night, I attended a film showing of “500 Years”, as part of the Roxy’s current month-long series honoring Native American Heritage Month.

Following the film, there was a 3-person panel set up for a Q & A session. As the film credits rolled, over half of the audience left, leaving around 25 of us to engage with the panel members. This is something I experience a lot. (I’m now remembering the Hate Crimes Forum I attended a couple of weeks ago, where by the end of the evening only 10 of us remained in a sea of empty chairs.) I find this to be a sad commentary on our ability to act on behalf of supporting others in matters when in stands to inconvenience our own lives.

I’ll tell you, in both of the cases I just mentioned, I would’ve preferred to have left, too. I was tired. I was ready for bed. But I stayed, because it was the right thing to do. I stayed because those panel members deserved my attention and my presence. They were devoting their time and energy to a cause they believed in and were passionate about. And the very least I could do was stay.

Public service message:
Think of others before you depart for yourself.