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Mindful Morning Saturdays

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The Buddha and the crow sit together

near a council fire, tall and splendid.

Their faces aglow, postures sturdy.

In the charter of Thich Nhat Hanh’s Order of Interbeing (OI), ordained members are required to:

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Only in the past 4 years, since I’ve been going on extended retreat stays at Deer Park Monastery each January, have I been coming even remotely close to meeting the last requirement of “observing 60 days of mindfulness each year.” Between attending local retreats and days of mindfulness and going to Deer Park I estimate having around 30 or 40 days of what I figure qualifies as a “day of mindfulness.” Up until recently I haven’t given too much thought about this aspect of the OI charter, choosing instead to focus on the spirit of the practice and not get caught in the form of having a certain amount of specific days in which I can refer to as a “day of mindfulness.” But, like everything else, my practice changes. Over the past few months I’ve been brainstorming about ways in which to start implementing a weekly Day of Mindfulness. Of course, applying mindfulness in everyday life is what Thich Nhat Hanh’s tradition is all about, but a set aside Day of Mindfulness is an opportunity to “up our game,” as I heard it explained recently by an OI aspirant. It involves more intention, more focused practice energy. Looking deeply, I see now that I used to let myself off the hook in regards to this one, saying to myself: “Mindfulness is the aim of my life, I’m practicing everyday. So every day is a mindfulness day.” And this sentiment is both true and not true, at the same time.

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Self-Care

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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

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Day of Mindfulness

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When I realized a few days ago that today would be a solo day for me I decided to have a 1/2 day of mindfulness to and for myself (which wound up being from about 10:00am-2:30pm).  With my stepson at his mom’s, my husband out on a paintball adventure with friends, and my having no set plans or scheduled to-do’s I had the wonderful opportunity of an open, free day.

You may wonder, “What is a day of mindfulness?”  In the Plum Village tradition (led by Thich Nhat Hanh) the monasteries, at least the ones here in the states, typically offer 2 days of mindfulness each week, which are open and free for people to attend.  They are a day, or rather 1/2 a day because they tend to go from 9:00am-1:00pm, of intentional community practice and often include listening to a dharma talk, having dharma sharing in small groups, outdoor walking meditation, and sharing a silent meal together.  We are encouraged as OI members (Order of Interbeing. which is another name of Thich Nhat Hanh’s tradition) to  practice a certain amount of days of mindfulness throughout the year as part of the ordination vow we take.  There are many ways in which we can create our own day of mindfulness.  For me it involves slowing down, discontinuing certain things such as using the computer or listening to music (which I do A LOT), and setting an intention to do and enjoy one thing at a time.  I’ve recently started reading Brother Phap Hai’s book that just came out called Nothing To It.  A day or two ago I was reading a part in the introduction where he talks about the practice of Lazy Days, which are part of the Plum Village tradition.  Lazy Days are practiced at our monasteries and usually occur once a week, often on Mondays.  They are a day of no scheduled activities other than meals, not even morning sitting meditation.  Phap Hai writes about Lazy Days in this way:

Laziness is one of the hardest things for people in our modern society all over the world to practice.  We think we’re being “lazy,” but we spend all our time watching TV and reading books and writing emails and catching up on errands and paying that bill and seeing this or that person.  Laziness, in the Plum Village practice, means to allow the world to be as it is and to allow each moment to unfold just as it unfolds: to experience beauty, as I am right now, of the morning sun coming up; to watch the sky changing; to see the wind blowing in the leaves.

I very much liked his description of a Lazy Day so I decided to blend its spirit, as Phap Hai offered, with the energy of a day of mindfulness and see what unfolded.

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Posted by on October 11, 2015 in Days of Mindfulness

 

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Day of Mindfulness

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Yesterday, Sunday February 23rd, our Be Here Now sangha hosted a day of mindfulness.  It was a lovely day of community building and strengthening of practice.  We had a small varying group of 8-10 people.  Throughout the day intermittent snow fell softly.

Our theme for the day was cultivating joy and we wove it into our program through guided meditation, deep relaxation, a mindfulness teaching talk, movement exercises, and a creative project in which we made mindfulness verses.  A mindfulness verse (also called a gatha) is a short saying that we can post around our home or office to help us remember to come back to the present moment.

A mindfulness verse my husband made

A mindfulness verse my husband made

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Blue Cliff Monastery

Blue Cliff Monastery Dharma Hall

Blue Cliff Monastery Dharma Hall

Today I had the wonderful opportunity to attend a day of mindfulness at Thay’s (Thich Nhat Hanh’s) monastery and practice center in Pine Bush, New York called Blue Cliff Monastery.  The monastery hosts two days of mindfulness each week on Thursdays and Sundays and they are open and free to attend.  My mom and I drove up from the suburbs of Philadelphia, about 2 1/2 hours away.  It was so lovely to be able to add this venture into my east coast trip of visiting family and friends and I was grateful that my mom wanted to come with me.

We arrived around 9:00am this morning with blue skies overhead and crisp snow underfoot.  The picture above shows the dharma hall where the sitting meditation and other programs take place.  The words I have arrived, I am home (displayed on the rock in the picture) is a deep practice in this tradition.  It is a call to bring us back to the here and now.  Our true home, the only moment we can be truly alive, is in the here and now.  These words are a reminder.  Like a good friend reaching out their hand to hold ours.

Dharma Hall

Dharma Hall

The fragrant smell of cedar, which lined the walls, greeted us upon opening the door to the dharma hall.  It was a beautiful space.  Around 9:30am we watched a dharma talk by Thay.  Here are some notes I took (with some paraphrasing involved):

We must learn how to handle our restlessness.  We abuse our bodies and it causes restlessness in our body and mind.  We cannot wait for others to come and make us more peaceful.  Sitting meditation is the peace – if you cannot sit with peace this is not yet sitting.  We have to remove the idea that sitting is hard labor.  Sitting is an art.  The breath connects the body and mind.  Sitting meditation is very precious.  We need to learn to sit and do nothing.  Many people don’t know how to rest.  Even when on vacation you may come home more exhausted and worn out because you do not yet know how to rest.  If we sit for one hour and our minds are thinking, grasping, planning or worrying then this is restlessness, it is not restful.  If we can sit in peace we sit for our mother and our father, our ancestors, our lineage and our country.  

In the beginning we can imitate others but then we don’t need to do that anymore.  

Gathas (short mindfulness verses) are an anchor.  They can help us to not drift away (from the here and now).  Like a boat has an anchor to help it not be swept away by the waves of the ocean.  Gathas for walking meditation: Each step is a miracle, Each step is nourishing, Each step is healing, Each step is freedom.  

Main alter in the dharma hall

Main alter in the dharma hall

After the talk we had a short break and then reconvened for outdoor walking meditation.  There were only about 7 or 8 of us laypeople there (meaning folks who were not monastics: monk and nuns) and maybe 15 or 20 monastics for the talk and 10 or 12 for the outdoor walking so it was a nice small group.  For the walk we were led through the surrounding winter woods.  The hard melting snow lent itself to uneven and slippery steps.  With the slow cadence of walking meditation it was fairly easy to get proper footing as we wove around trees, rhododendrons, and little cricks.  From time to time we would stop and breathe and take in the beautiful scenery.  The walk was in silence and I very much enjoyed the fact that each step took great care and mindfulness naturally because of the snow and ice.  One of my favorite moments on the walk was when at a particular resting point some of the monastics proceeded to throw snowballs back and forth at each other :)  A good reminder that silliness and playfulness are important parts of the practice.

Walking meditation

Walking meditation

After the outdoor walking we had a delicious vegetarian lunch served in the dining hall.  We ate in silence, which I very much enjoy.  To have the space, time and quiet to connect deeply with the food in front of me is of great benefit to my practice.  In my rice, tofu, and vegetables I looked deeply to see the sun, earth, clouds, farmers, workers, transportation, gasoline, roads, stores, and cooks within the food.  It is easy to eat our meals quickly without much thought of gratitude for the conditions that brought the food to our plate.  When I can eat my meal with respect to the path its traveled I am practicing to have reverence for life and to not be swept away by my selfish and greedy states of mind.

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Once we finished eating there was an hour or so break before we wrapped up the day with a dharma sharing circle with the other laypeople.  During the break we walked the grounds a bit and visited the monastery bookshop where my mom bought me a winter hat knitted by one of the sisters (nuns) and a Thich Nhat Hanh comic book for my 13 year old step-son :)

Thich Nhat Hanh comic book.  Check out peaceisthewayfilms.com for more info.

Thich Nhat Hanh comic book. Check out peaceisthewayfilms.com for more info.

There were 7 of us for the dharma sharing circle.  We shared silence and most everyone spoke about their practice and what was going on for them in their daily lives – it was quite nice.  Afterwards I spoke a little bit with another OI member (Order of Interbeing) and then we took off back towards home.  It was lovely to be able to spend time in one of the monasteries on a more intimate and personal level.  The other two Thich Nhat Hanh monasteries I’ve visited were with 900-1,200 other people on large retreats.  All of the brothers and sisters (monks & nuns) were very warm and friendly.  It was an easy place to visit and enter into the flow of mindfulness and community.  I feel so fortunate to have received this opportunity.  To bask in the glow of I have arrived, I am home with our in breath and out breath is also to practice stopping and resting.  To practice stopping and resting is to practice taking good care of ourselves.  And to take good care of ourselves is to take good care of those around us.  We do not need to go to a monastery to practice.  We can practice in the very here and now, wherever we are, whomever we’re with.

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