One day soon, the other side of the bed will be occupied by him once again, and I will no longer have to utilize the services of my heating blanket to keep warm at night.
At certain times over the past 3-months, I’ve used this solo time to imagine what a life led in his permanent absence would be like; as though he were gone for good and not only for a short stint. I’ve pondered how I would manage and carry on without him. I’ve gotten a tiny glimpse as to why a widow might keep herself in mourning for a lifetime.
When you’ve married your heart to another full throttle – after weaving your lives together for a spell – there is no such thing as time spent without their energetic impression accompanying you.
Mind you, I can hold my own. I’m steady on my own two aching feet and can joy it up with the best of em, all on my own accord. But I want to keep doing all of that with him close at hand.
One day soon, I’ll shift positions in the middle of the night and in place of the open sea, he’ll be there to catch me – and it will be the utmost of grand occasions.
I’m not sure how long ago I started this practice I call Mindful Morning Saturday, maybe a year or so. I’ve posted about it before but I was inspired to post about it again, simply because it’s adds so much benefit, energy, and joyfulness to my weekend.
As an ordained OI member (Order of Interbeing), I am asked to partake in a certain amount of Days of Mindfulness every year – 60, to be precise. And this particular OI requirement often poses some head scratching for folks, both before and after they ordain. True to form, we are not given any specifics as to how to manifest this and are left instead to use our own intelligence and insight in developing our own relationship with how to put this into active practice.
I ordained in 2007. For the first few years after that, I simply continued to attend our locally held retreats twice a year, as well as any locally held special events and days of mindfulness organized by my sangha. Then, in 2014, I started going on retreat to Deer Park Monastery for 3-4 weeks at a time every January. So for the past five years I’ve been closer than ever before, in terms of meeting the required 60 days of mindfulness.
For years, I’d wanted to figure out a way to insert a Day of Mindfulness into my home life routine once a week but I hadn’t known a good way to do it. I think like many of us OI members who are perplexed by this requirement of ordination, I was caught in thinking that a Day of Mindfulness had to be a WHOLE entire day, which seemed impossible if I was interested in doing it every week.
Then, just last year I think it was, I started thinking about the Days of Mindfulness I would participate in while I was staying at Deer Park. Most Sundays at Deer Park are an open Day of Mindfulness, where folks are welcome and encouraged to come to the monastery for a day of practice. The Days of Mindfulness there generally start at 9:00am and end after lunch, around 1:00pm. They aren’t a WHOLE entire day. They typically last about 4-hours. Once I realized this, I started thinking about my own 60 Days of Mindfulness differently.
Written at 5:37am, Friday January 25th, 2019:
Given the expedient fashion with which we managed to both get to and through the airport – checking bags and all – I’m already back at home.
We even lingered in the airport gift shop for a spell, wrinkling our noses at the horrid smell of perfumed, decorative soaps and delighting in the array of stuffed animals, in order to further delay parting ways at the security line.
It was me who made the call. “Okay,” I said, “it’s probably time.”
After a proper embrace, we headed in opposite directions. As I headed out, I glanced back 2-3 times and met his gaze doing the same each time.
And that was that.
I was outside, surrounded by the dark chill of early morning in Missoula – and he was inside, surrounded by bright artificial lighting, soon to take off sky high and land in short order in southern California, where I hope he will be cradled well for the next 3-months.
Over the past week, multiple times a day, I took inventory of the things I would miss about him while he was gone and also the things I would look forward to having a break from. But in the last day or two, the line between these categories grew increasingly blurry and I came to see that I would miss all of it. Even the stuff I really don’t like, such as cleaning up wads of chewing tobacco on the windowsill that serves as his nightstand.
I take solace in the truth of our situation, of the little thing that has happened in our being together for almost 20-years: because we resound in the graces of our interbeing nature, we are strong and strengthened both when we’re together and when we’re apart.
I reckon from here on out, until he returns in 3-months, the ol homestead will be in the same state of affairs when I come home each day as to when I left.
It was only 8-months ago I was preparing dinner each night for 3-4 people. In June, our household reduced to a steady 3. In November, we were whittled down to 2. And now, starting today, I am paired down to 1.
He’s leaving on a jet plane tomorrow morning at 6am, with a plan to be gone for 3-months.
And while physically he’s going on alone, to our beloved extended sangha family at Deer Park Monastery in southern California, on retreat – where he and I have been venturing together every January for 2-4 weeks at a stretch for the past 5-years – and I’ll be staying home to hold down the fort, do not mourn for our marital separation. Rest instead, as we are, in the graces of our interbeing nature, knowing full well that wherever he goes, I go and wherever I am, he is. When he goes away on retreat he goes not only for or by himself alone. He goes for us both. He will not be there alone and I will not be here alone.
When either of us engage in a true act of self-care, we are automatically and simultaneously helping to care well for our counterpart. There is no separation.
Of course there is sadness in our physical parting. Of course we will miss each other. But do not think for one moment that this is our sole or dominating reality. Do not suffer from the false impression that I am sacrificing my own usual personal retreat time at Deer Park, for I am not giving anything up. Together, Mike and I are acting in the best interest with love and care for one another. For those who may have trouble understanding, falling victim to your own falsely held views, let this be heard, understood, resonate, and absorb.
Know too, in the wake of sorrow, there is nothing wrong or in need of fixing. Sorrow is part of life, not separate. We would do well to stop trying to make it go away or will it to be other than as it is or inflame it to some dramatic swell.
So if in the next few days and weeks you ask me how I am and I respond by saying that I am sad, please know that it’s okay and I’m okay. Being sad doesn’t automatically equate to falling apart. I’d rather not have to shield you from sharing my true state of heart in an effort to help you manage your own discomfort with sorrow. This is something I’ve been working on: not over-caretaking for other people’s experiences and feelings (which I have the great tendency to do). So this is me stepping into some discomfort, doing the work.
I’ve been reluctant to share this news on a variety of occasions since we made this decision 2-months ago, for a lack of knowing how to best field people’s common misunderstandings about why we’ve made this choice. Here are some of the impressions people have shared or eluded to:
- Our marriage must be in trouble
- Mike’s depression must be REALLY bad
- My personal practice will suffer without my annual DP retreat sojourn
- Mike and I must be consumed in sorrow at the prospect of our separation for 3-months
- I am performing some great and noble act by “allowing” him this opportunity
And NONE of these are accurate or true.
Take comfort in the letting go of such false notions, if indeed you have them, dear friends.
Yes, Mike’s depression has kicked up and we were propelled into making this decision based on him needing some recharging and restoration time to help support his mental and emotional well-being. But we’re all good on the home front.
There is no crisis. No catastrophe taking place. No upheaval of our state of being.
Our feet are planted firmly on the path of practice – both as individuals and together as a paired couple – with love and ease, in the spirit of liberation.
Why do I practice? And more specifically: Why do I practice in this Plum Village mindfulness tradition, in all the ways that I do?
Why I do see fit to attend retreats, spend time at Deer Park Monastery, sit for 30-minutes in meditation each morning, show up to my weekly sangha every Monday night, read sutras, chant, and spend hours each week tending to our local and statewide sanghas and mindfulness center’s business turnings? Why do I put so much attention, effort, care, and diligence into developing and strengthening the seeds of mindfulness, joy, ease, liberation, and heartfulness in my daily life?
For me, the spirit of these questions is worth while to to keep alive and answer periodically from time to time.
Right now, here in this moment, I am inspired to answer in two different ways: a practical way and a poetic way.
First, the practical way:
I practice because I feel nourished and supported by my teachers, the dharma, and the sangha. I practice because even when it’s hard, it feels like the right thing to be doing. I practice because I am able to see the fruits that develop and strengthen in my daily life as a result of my efforts, such as growing my capacity for being more kind, caring, present, connected, open, and understanding. I practice because I know life would be hell if I didn’t. I practice in the interest of life being precious and time being short. I practice because I want to help support and care well for others and I see clearly that in order to do that, my own well-being must be continuously maintained and protected. I practice because this tradition brings me to a vibrant, joyful, and grounded frame of mind, body, and heart, over and over again.
And now the poetic response:
This morning, while reading the Discourse on Happiness from our Plum Village chanting book, it clicked. After reading the second sentence: “Late at night, a deva appeared whose light and beauty made the whole Jeta Grove shine radiantly,” I came to understand what Brother Phap De meant two years ago when I was at Deer Park.
He had just finished leading us in stick exercises one morning before breakfast when he asked us, in a light and friendly tone of voice: “Who was that diva dancing the polka in the parking lot yesterday? I think they should lead us all in a dance session!”
In that moment, my internal dialog went something like this: Oh man. That was me. I didn’t really think others were watching. Do I have to declare myself now in front of all these people?! I mean, I really REALLY do not want to lead a dance session, that’s for sure.
I sheepishly raised my hand, indicating that the diva he was inquiring about was me. Then, I raced the heck out of there and headed to breakfast.
Later, I pondered the terminology he has used: diva dancing the polka and felt a mixture of confusion (as I didn’t know exactly what the polka entailed but I was certain I wasn’t doing it), slight embarrassment, and feeling affronted. Did he call me a diva? I thought to myself on many occasions after that. I’m not sure I like that term. No, I KNOW I don’t like that term. Is that how others see me?! Oh dear.
Up until this morning, I thought he meant diva (with an i), as in someone who is a prima donna, as my paperback Webster’s defines it. (Then I looked up “prima donna” to make sure I understood that word correctly – which is listed as: an extremely sensitive, vain, or undisciplined person.) But now I realize he probably meant deva (with an e!), which is described as a Celestial being or angel in the glossary in the back of our chanting book.
Upon making this discovery this morning, my internal dialog went something like this:
This changes everything!
I’ve read the Discourse on Happiness a handful of times since Brother Phap De declared me the deva dancing the polka. But it wasn’t until just this morning that this insight arose, allowing for me to move into proper understanding.
The human experience is so incredibly fascinating, from a self-observation standpoint especially.
While it’s not worth giving it too much thought, I wonder: What changed? What allowed me to make this connection TODAY vs. some other day? I mean, I haven’t consciously thought about this instance with Brother Phap De in a long long time.
One of the guiding life sayings that I like to tell myself often is: Sometimes you don’t get to know why. Translation: This is a moment you would do well to practice just going with the flow of the river of life experience, Nicole. Stop trying to analyze things or come to some sort of neat conclusion that can fit in well with how you view the world, it’s a waste of time and energy.
Over the years since this encounter, even though I wasn’t a fan of being called a diva (with an i), I have dearly cherished this moment between us. He was genuinely interested in knowing who it had been that he had seen down in the parking lot. It was clear to me that he had been delighted in their joyful offering. And while I was mildly embarrassed that someone – especially a monk – had seen me dancing, I was also put at ease that he was able to sense my heartfelt enjoyment of dancing and appreciate it for what it was, vs. perhaps deeming it an inappropriate activity to do at a monastery (which was a back-of-the-mind concern of mine). And he was apparently so taken with my dancing that he even wanted me to instruct and lead others!
Brother Phap De passed away at age 82 (I think) in August of 2016. If memory serves, he made the “deva dancing the polka” comment in January of that same year, when Mike and I were there on retreat. It was an honor and privilege to get to know and spend time with Brother Phap De over the years that Mike and I have been visiting Deer Park, before he passed away. When I do stick exercises – which typically amounts to once a week – I think of him every time, as he was the one who would always lead them at Deer Park. Randomly during his instructions, he would prompt us all to smile – and when I lead them on our local retreats or at other times, I continue his memory and remind people of the same thing.
At the end of my stick exercise session each week, I do two standing bows in closing. The first bow is in dedication of Brother Phap De. And the second is in gratitude for the stick I use.
Gosh it sure is easy to misunderstand things.
Now that I know what Brother Phap De actually meant, I am even more nourished from this encounter we shared. And now that I have been afforded the great gift of insight, it will allow me to carry forward this memory with more clarity, understanding, ease, and joy.
Sometimes – maybe even all the time – more understanding equates to more freedom. Freedom from what? you might wonder. To which the teachings in our tradition would say: Freedom from illusory notions and false views, which is ultimately what all of our suffering (large, small, or tiny) can be attributed to on a foundational level.
Over this past weekend, I finished watching a talk by Brother Phap Hai, which he gave at Deer Park Monastery on June 21st, 2018. I watch a fair amount of Dharma talks online and I found this one in particular to be very powerful. If you’d like to check it out, click here. Side note: if you’re like me and it’s helpful to watch talks in segments, there are good stopping/pausing points in this talk at 17.40 and 31.05 (the total run time is 54.55).
From Brother Phap Hai’s talk:
“The fundamental insight of Buddhism is that if we look deeply into our lives, into our situation, with appropriate attention, then the path reveals itself naturally.”
Seven Treasures of the Heart
as offered by the Buddha in the Dhana Sutta
2. Mindfulness trainings