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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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Here we go!

Hello friends! I’ve just returned home from my four-week long retreat stay at Deer Park Monastery. I wrote A LOT and took A LOT of pictures – so hold on, here we go!

(Helpful Info & Terminology: This is a 4-week long series of blog posts written during my recent retreat stay at Deer Park Monastery, located in southern California, in the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh. Due to not having had Internet access I will be posting one day’s worth of my writing each day from while I was there on retreat.

Laypeople: Also called lay friends or laymen and laywomen, are all of us who come here to practice 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. (Clarity and Solidity are just a short 10-15 minute walk in distance from each other).
Thay: Refers to Thich Nhat Hanh, meaning teacher in Vietnamese)

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Arrival Day:
Friday January 15th, 2016

8:15am (Pacific Time)

At 4:30am the taxi showed up, right on time and according to schedule. (Side note: I super appreciate things that run on time). We had friends who happily offered to cart us to the airport but we decided for $20 it was worth keeping our friends cocooned in the warmth and slumber of their beds. The slick roadways were wide open.

Without a hitch we made it to departure gate number 5 to await boarding. Our mountain town airport only has five gates, which I think is awesome, and gate #5 is situated on the ground level, as it involves a smaller plane that you have to walk outside to get onto. An airline attendant came out, introduced himself, and started  his announcement by saying, “I have to deliver some bad news,” which of course sunk all of our hearts a little bit in preparation for the rest of what he had to say. “I’m afraid there will be no coffee on board this flight, so if you want to grab some coffee before boarding please do so.” Good delivery there guy. Or perhaps his lightness was well intended and rightfully so. Who cares about there being no coffee after briefly confronting the possibility of a delayed or cancelled flight?! Well done sir, well done.

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Posted by on February 14, 2016 in Deer Park Monastery

 

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Sitting and Breathing

real-heart-drawing-meditator-with-red-heartThis past Monday marked the start of a new class series I’m teaching entitled Being Here Now.  I just recently taught a 6-week series by the same name that ended last week.  Essentially this is the same class with different students, although this one is an 8-week series.  Since I had to reformat a bit in order to add two more weeks worth of material I decided to elongate the instructions for sitting meditation and also allow more time to go over the practice of deep breathing, which is what I’ll be doing for our next class – both are very simple but not at all easy to execute.  This post will be my brainstorming platform of what I’ll be covering in next week’s class.

Sitting meditation is one of the largest tools that we can use and develop in terms of building a strong foundation for becoming more mindful in our daily lives.  Sitting meditation allows us the opportunity to practice simply being with our genuine experience as it’s unfolding, without trying to manipulate, judge, or distract ourselves.  The “aim” of sitting meditation is to be with our sitting, to be with our breathing.  That’s it.  As I said, simple but not easy.  Note: I put the word aim in quotation marks because we want to be careful not to set any specific goals or purpose during our sitting meditation, as this can be a pitfall to practice.  We do however want to be clear as to the intent behind our desire to cultivate a sitting meditation routine.  The act of sitting meditation, over time, will allow us to create more spaciousness in our lives.  It can teach us to learn how to slow down in order to experience and appreciate all of the wonders of life that reside within and around us in any given moment.  This development of spaciousness is also crucial if we have a desire to live more happily and joyfully with less stress and anxiety.  If we want to improve our quality of life we must learn how to start slowing down, at least a tiny little bit.  This doesn’t mean we necessarily have to stop doing the things we’re doing physically – for many of us this slowing down involves our internal mental activity more than our physical output of energy.  Sitting meditation puts us in touch with our mental landscape so that we can start seeing the habits and patterns that fuel and propel us forward, which is a necessary component in creating effective change.

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Being Here Now

PerryBackus_Ravalli Republic, moonsetinbitterroots

A pic I found on a local news outlet website and added Be Here Now to (pic credit on photo).

Starting next week I’ll be teaching a 6-week class series entitled Being Here Now through the adult learning center here in town.  I’ve taught a few other similar class series’ through them as well but its been a couple of years since my last session.  The description I provided for the class is as follows :

When we learn the art of mindfulness through the cultivation of meditation, relaxation, and joy our lives have the opportunity to become more spacious and at ease. This class will be focusing on the practice of sitting meditation, watering seeds of joy within ourselves, and learning how to rest our bodies and minds through the process of guided relaxation. No experience necessary, great for beginners. This is a non-faith based approach to living more happily and mindfully in the present moment, all are welcome. A variety of cushions, benches, and chairs will be provided.

Since it turns out that in the span of 5 days I’ll be giving a talk for Unity Church’s interfaith day of prayer service, performing in a poetry slam (this Friday! Gulp!), starting my class series, and giving a teaching talk at my local sangha I’m especially finding the need to write out my preparations for these speaking engagements in order to keep them all organized.  So, once again in line with two of my most recent posts, this one is to help me sort through what to cover in my first class.

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Posted by on September 8, 2015 in Mindfulness Instruction

 

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Unity World Day of Prayer

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The prayer of a spiritual practitioner is very deep. The spiritual practitioner understands that our health, our success, and even our relationships with our loved ones, are not the most important things. The most important matter for a practitioner is to be able to break through the veil of the material plane in order to enter the ultimate dimension and see the interconnection between us and all other phenomena in the world around us.

“When we pray we have to have wisdom. When most of us pray, we usually want God to do something for us or bestow this or that upon our loved ones. We think that if God were able to do this one thing, then we would be happy. But every one thing is made up of a million pieces. As long as there is birth, there has to be death. Do we have enough wisdom to be able to set up that equilibrium or not? If we do not have that capacity, our prayer could be just a manifestation of our foolishness or our greed. Depending on our understanding of life, on our compassion, we want to make a list of work that needs to be done and ask God or Buddha or Allah to follow it. So we have to look deeply so that our prayers consider the whole, and not just the parts.”

– Thich Nhat Hanh, from The Energy of Prayer

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Posted by on August 27, 2015 in Everyday Practice

 

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Things Take Time

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I was trying to think about whether anything can happen without the passing of time.  I don’t think so.  Everything takes time.  Whether it’s something good or something bad it require time to manifest.  Of course, the amount of time varies but everything does take a certain amount of time.  We may want things to happen quickly, or instantly, but life simply doesn’t work that way.

What has me thinking about this passing of time is my current healing process, after having had shoulder surgery 3 weeks ago.  A lack of info from my doctor beforehand in regards to what I should expect post surgery sent me researching online.  Fortunately I came across a few very helpful sites that stated it would be 9-12 months before I should see full function and strength return after surgery.  This info helped me to have a general idea of what to anticipate and allowed me to be develop a realistic approach to healing, rather then set up intangible goals.  Often we have irrational and illogical ideas when it comes to how long we think things should take – whether it surrounds our losing weight, stopping smoking, mourning the loss of a loved one, finding a well matched mate, learning something new, cultivating closeness/friendship/community, healing from trauma or illness, transforming unskillful habit energies, or starting a new chapter in our lives.  Things take time.

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Breathing at the Dentist

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The practice of mindfulness is one that travels.  We can carry it with us wherever we go.  And the more places we carry it with us the more able we are to connect with a widening circle of experiences happening in the here and now.  When we cultivate connection we’re also cultivating the art of understanding and acceptance.  And the more things we can learn to accept the happier we’ll be.

Yesterday I carried my mindfulness practice with me into the dentist’s chair.  I don’t go to the dentist very often, on account of it being one of the fastest ways to spend a lot of money.  So when I do go it’s because I’m having an issue.  Yesterday I went in to have two cavities filled, one of which made it difficult to chew on one side of my mouth.  I was not looking forward to this experience, as I’m sure most everyone can relate to.  I imagine it must at times be challenging to be a dentist or dental assistant because no one is ever really happy to see you.  While one might be glad to have their tooth pain addressed not many people want to go to the dentist.  I’ve only had one other cavity in my life and so I couldn’t remember how much pain to expect or what the experience would be like but I did know I didn’t particularly want to be there.

These days I enjoy the new opportunities that present themselves in my daily life in order to expand my mindfulness practice so that it can grow and strengthen.  So while I was not thrilled about having to go to the dentist I did appreciate having a new situation in which to carry my mindfulness into.  On the way from my car to the front door of the dental office just before 9:00am yesterday morning, with a bright blue sky overhead and a nice winter chill in the air, I breathed in and out the golden sunshine and paid attention to my steps as I walked.  I greeted the man at the reception desk with  a light disposition and a big smile.  Within a few minutes I was in the dentist’s chair having a numbing agent swabbed on my gums in preparation for the insertion of a large needle.  I closed my eyes and connected with my breathing.  Breathing in I know that I breathing in, breathing out I know that I am breathing out.  Breathing in I feel my stomach rise, breathing out I feel my stomach fall.  

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Posted by on February 18, 2015 in Everyday Practice

 

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