Pretending vs. Practicing

 

I’m someone who has great confidence in the wisdom I first learned by attending 12-step meetings with my mom growing up: Fake it till you make it. However, and this is important, there are two main ways to go about this teaching: one which involves actually “making it” and one that doesn’t. It depends on what inward agency is driving the boat, as to which result is likely to manifest.

There’s a difference between pretending and practicing. Or as I sometimes like to say: pretending vs. rallying. I see the differences as such. Pretending is like believing in unicorns or playing hide & go seek and thinking the other person can’t see you under the blankets on a bed. It’s all in good fun, but you know on a realistic level that unicorns (unfortunately) are not real and that the other person will be able to know where you are as soon as they walk into the room. Pretending is based in non-reality, without basis of truth.

Practicing, on the other hand, is based on a deeper knowing of what is a real possibility. Everything takes practice. Everything. If we want to learn to play an instrument, we have to practice practice practice, in order to gain skill and mastery at it. If we want to learn a new language, we have to practice practice practice. And traits of character are the same. What seeds grow in the heart of our consciousness are the same. If we want to grow and strengthen seeds of joy, ease, kindness, honesty, authenticity, openness, understanding, and so on, we must practice to water those seeds often and ongoingly.

The outcome that results is dependent on whether we’re going into whatever it is we’re trying to do, fueled by the energy of pretending or the energy of practice.

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Sometimes, Things are Just Hard

It’s easy to sometimes regard the practice of mindfulness and/or meditation as being some kind of magical elixir (especially by new practitioners), as though we could (and should) use them to cure us of our woes and ailments – that somehow if we are mindful enough and meditate enough, we’ll be able to fix whatever it is we feel needs fixing. But, the truth is, sometimes, things are just hard. Having a mindfulness practice and sitting in meditation can strengthen our ability to stay present, balanced, and well-grounded in our own experience of whatever is unfolding – which can be invaluably beneficial – but, in the end, neither mindfulness or meditation can alleviate the causes and conditions of struggle, pain, sorrow, and so on. Our relationship with life can change, but life itself will always entail a certain degree of suffering, difficulty, challenge, and heartache.

What I’m trying to highlight here, is that it’s important not to use the practices of mindfulness and meditation to form some kind of emotional smoke-screen to hide or otherwise distort the simple and very real truth that sometimes life is just hard. And, in my experience, there is a strange and great relief in coming to this understanding. There is a powerful release in being able to simply state, with clear intent, that things are just hard sometimes – without trying to explain further or apologize or rationalize or sugar-coat something for someone else’s perceived benefit. Sometimes, things are just hard. End of sentence.

I recently watched a TED talk given by Susan Kaiser Greenland on the ABC’s of Attention, Balance, and Compassion. In her talk she stated that mindfulness isn’t about changing or fixing, it’s about understanding and being aware. And on one of her slides, it stated: Wisdom comes not from being perfect but from being present. I think we can get carried away and swept up in the false notion of perfection when it comes to a lot of things. But perfection is a relative construct – and I would go so far as to call it a farce.

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Open Way Fall Retreat 2015 (Part 2)

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As I mentioned in my last post: Open Way Fall Retreat 2015 (Part 1), last weekend was our local Montana Open Way Sanghas fall retreat.  The pictures featured here were taken during our weekend together.  Dharma teacher Terry Cortez-Vega joined us from Austin, TX to lead our meditation retreat.  I took some notes during her dharma talks and wanted to share a few of them:

Everything we experience, everything we think is in flux, is impermanent.  It’s not impermanence that makes us suffer it’s that we think things are permanent when they’re not.  When we have the flu or are stuck in traffic we trust in the nature of impermanence that things will change.  Impermanence is not a philosophy, it’s a practice.

Non-self doesn’t mean we don’t exist, it means we are impermanent.

The buddha taught that there are 3 kinds of suffering: 1. 2nd arrow suffering, where we multiply the stress of an event that takes place.  2. Willie Nelson suffering (Terry called it), where we want to hold onto what we like and get rid of what we don’t like.  3. Looking for solid ground suffering, wanting guarantees and certainty in life.  Thay teaches that we need to let go of the little sufferings so that we can conserve energy for the big stuff.

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Nourishing the Sacred in Each Other

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Tomorrow night is the start of our local bi-annual Open Way Sanghas mindfulness retreat in the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh.  Dharma teacher Michael Ciborski is our visiting teacher who will be leading the retreat.  He has been leading retreats here in Montana once a year for the last few years.  And this year for the first time he ventured here with his wife Fern and their youngest child Fiana who is two-years old.

To offer a wonderful practice opportunity to the greater Missoula community I helped put together a public talk tonight entitled: Nourishing the Scared in Each Other where Michael spoke on the topics of mindfulness, deep breathing, and coming back home to the present moment.  It was a beautiful spring evening here in the mountains, the sky was a crisp blue and the sun shone down into the valley with radiance and delicate warmth.  Here in the rocky mountains of western Montana, where the chill of winter’s embrace dog ear’s more calendar months than it skips, it can often be difficult to wrangle people indoors when the sun starts to color in the landscape.  But tonight we managed to fill a room in the Continuing Education Building on the campus of the University of Montana with 50 people – and considering we were up against the International Wildlife Film Festival I think we had a great sized crowd.

Public Talk at the University of Montana

Public Talk at the University of Montana

Michael opened up the talk guiding us in some breathing exercises and then went on to speak about how our breath can put us in touch with what’s actually happening in the here and now (as opposed to getting carried away by our stories or worries…).  He said that it’s important to develop a strong muscle of returning home, by which he is referring to the present moment.  Our true home is in the present moment, it is the only moment where we are truly alive!  We cannot reside in the past, for it has already happened, and we cannot reside in the future, for it has not yet come to be.  Right here and right now, this is it!

He spoke about a three-point system (so to speak):

Stop – Connect – Engage

To stop means to stop running, stop worrying, stop the anxiety, sorrow, fear and other strong habit energies that inhibit our ability to come home to ourselves in the present moment and serve no skillful means on the path of transformation.  To connect means to become one with.  And to engage is to embrace and love deeply.

MIchael Ciborski

MIchael Ciborski

I wrote down a quote from Michael as he was talking that I really appreciated:

“We have tremendous power in the little moments of our life.”

This insight needs to be more than an intellectual comprehension.  This teaching is a deep, rich, and beautiful practice that we need to put into action as a collective community in order to foster our connection to ourselves, our environment, and one another.  Indeed it is only in the small moments of life that transformation is possible.  With mindfulness, every act we do is an opportunity to come back home.