The thing about Dharma memes

Recently, on my local sangha’s Facebook page – which has a rather large world-wide reach thanks to a viral post we had back in April of 2016 (which I still sometimes get notifications about!) – I posted the above meme.

Two people posted a comment on the meme and one person responded to one of the comments.

First comment: Never? I doubt that.

Second comment: Yeah right, you are being abused and the suffering is caused by yourself 🙄 These kind of statements are dangerous and can cause self centerdness and even more suffering.

Someone’s response to second comment: I think it’s trying to say, whats the use in blaming someone?

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Paramita #6: Understanding

Here is the verse my local paramita practice group has been reading & reflecting on daily this past week – which is the last one in our 6-week series – which I took and pieced together from the section focusing on the Sixth Paramita (understanding) from Thay’s book The Heart of the Buddha’s Teachings:

The highest kind of understanding is to be free from all knowledge, concepts, ideas, and views. If we can offer understanding to someone, that is true love. The one who receives our understanding will bloom like a flower, and we will be rewarded at the same time. Understanding is a fruit of the practice. Looking deeply means to be there, to be mindful, to be concentrated. The teaching of the Buddha is to help us understand reality deeply. A wave is a wave, it has a beginning and an end. But a wave is, at the same time, water. Water is the ground of being of the wave. It is important that a wave knows that she is water, and not just a wave. We, too, live our life as an individual. We believe that we have a beginning and an end, that we are separate from other living beings. That is why the Buddha advised us to look more deeply in order to touch the ground of our being.

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Venting?

This is me tugging on a thread to see what I come up with. The thread being: Is there a place for venting in the life of a mindfulness practitioner?

On our last two Zoom sangha calls, the topic of venting was brought up in two different unrelated occasions, so I thought I’d take the opportunity to explore it here on my blog. And for the record: this is a great topic to delve into and I very much appreciate the people who shared their thoughts and experience during our dharma sharing time on this. If the question I pose above had been asked in a group setting on a retreat to a Dharma teacher during a Q&A session, I would imagine myself thinking: now there’s a good question that can help benefit a lot of folks (which I do not say lightly, as most questions I encounter being asked during group Q&A’s are not of high quality).

First thing’s first. To delve into whether there is a place for venting in the life of a mindfulness practitioner, I must first give a reference point for what my own understanding of venting is, because I’m aware there will be vernacular differences here. Nicole’s definition of venting: to tell someone in charged tones/languaging the upset we’re experiencing – often in relation to another person(s) – with the hope of unburdening our self but the reality of fueling our struggle.

In my view, venting is most often (but not always) synonymous with rehearsing. I’ve not personally experienced venting equating to a true and actual release but more that it allows one to further strengthen their story and, therefor, their upset.

Often when venting takes place, we’re looking for a certain response from who we’re sharing with. Most often: we want others to get upset with us, to help validate how right/justified we are in being angry. This can be shown by the fact that often when we vent, we don’t just vent one time and then we feel better but we keep venting to whoever will listen.

This is tough one. Something I am personally and currently working on is: how to embrace/befriend anger when it arises as part of my experience (not something separate or something to pretend doesn’t/shouldn’t exist) without adding fuel to its fury. It’s an ongoing practice for sure.

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Paramita #3: Inclusiveness

Yesterday morning, I was driving to my stepson Jaden’s apartment, which he shares with his girlfriend Sierra, to drop off some food for them. Very few people were out and about on the road but I managed to get “stuck” the bulk of the way behind what I consider to be the standard Missoulian driver (translation: they were driving 5 miles under the speed limit). As I have a great desire to go a standard 5 miles OVER the speed limit around town, irritation is commonplace for me while driving. (I put intentional and ongoing effort into infusing my practice into the action of driving and I’ve come a long way and still have further to go.)

When irritation rose up in me, while puttering behind what seemed to be the only other car on the road in town other than my own, I saw my irritation straight away and laughed light-heartedly (which helps me to befriend my irritation). Then I said out loud to myself: Well Nicole, this is it, isn’t it? THIS is the practice of inclusiveness, right here and now. I mean, if you can’t work to enfold this super minor frustration into your practice then what possible hope is there for working with bigger moments when they arise? Then, as is often the case when I talk to myself, I answered myself back: Good point buddy. You’re totally right.

So, here is the verse our local paramita practice group has been reading & reflecting on daily this past week, which I took and pieced together from the section focusing on the Third Paramita from Thay’s book The Heart of the Buddha’s Teachings:

Inclusiveness is the capacity to receive, embrace, and transform. To suppress our pain is not the teaching of inclusiveness. We have to receive it, embrace it, and transform it. The only way to do this is to make our heart big. We look deeply in order to understand and forgive. The Buddha gave very concrete teachings on how to develop inclusiveness – love, compassion, joy, and equanimity. If you practice these Four Immeasurable Minds, you will have a huge heart. If you keep your pain for too long, it is because you have not yet learned the practice of inclusiveness.

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My Four Main Practice Threads

A little thing I made this morning :)

Most of what I have to share about in regards to the practice of mindfulness, rooted in the Plum Village tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh, centers around these four main threads, which I personally weave into my daily life on a regular and ongoing basis:

  1. Cultivating joy
  2. Practicing gratitude
  3. Prioritizing rest
  4. Monitoring closely the power & importance of words

Of course, there are other threads I weave in too, like: comfort zone expansion work and investing in creative forms of self-expression, but both of these, and many others, could simply be enfolded into one of the categories above. This list of four threads is the foundation of my own personal practice; it’s where I dig my Dharma well.

In Thay’s book Interbeing, in the four principles listed for the Order of Interbeing, it states:

It is said that there are 84,000 Dharma doors through which one can enter Buddhism. For Buddhism to continue as a living source of wisdom and peace, even more doors should be opened.

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Back from retreat

I arrived home on Tuesday night, after spending 2.5 weeks at Deer Park Monastery in southern California, based in the Plum Village Buddhist tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh. The above sign is a practice teaching in our tradition. To say that we have arrived, we are home means: right here and now in the present moment, the only moment we can be truly alive.

I took hundreds of photos and amassed a retreat daily log journal totaling 55-pages, sitting at 24,183 words. In the past, I’ve shared each journal entry while on retreat at DP. This time around, I’m not sure if I’ll do that or not. I’m not sure how interesting they really are to read day-in and day-out. (If you have thoughts you’d like to share in this regard, please do!)

So for now, I thought I’d share a few retreat reflections (and pepper in a few of my favorite pics).

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May I Be Useful, May I Be Kind

Every morning, I end my sitting meditation session with a short gratitude practice involving three gratitude-infused prostrations to the earth and then I stand and do one final standing bow, where I say inwardly to myself:

In gratitude for this one more opportunity to live today,

may I be useful, may I be kind.

I fashioned the Zen enso in the pic above using a newly acquired calligraphy pen and a super thick Sharpie.

In early December, I posted this pic on my home sangha’s Facebook page (Be Here Now Community) where, to date, it has “reached” 1,556 people. Of the 72 people who clicked on an emoji for the post: 71 people either liked or loved it and 1 person chose the sad icon. The person who was saddened by the post, commented: Can I be un-useful…..? So I am not good enough as I am….? 😢💔

I chose not to respond to this person’s comment, as I didn’t feel that a FB comment reply would be a skillful way to have any sort of meaningful dialog take place, and would likely only serve to create more confusion. However, I really appreciated this person’s comment; it’s been a subject of mild reflection for me ever since. I greatly appreciate learning how people hear and receive the Dharma. It helps me to better understand where people are coming from and to perhaps make adjustments in how I might share the Dharma with others, as someone who is highly invested in doing my best to unpack certain elements of the teachings that can often and easily be misunderstood or left unclear.

My reflections centered around this person’s comment include: if I was asked this question in person, what would I have said?; what message do I think they received from my post?; how can I flesh this out more?; how might I respond in such a way that won’t be more damaging or add further to this person’s confusion/sorrow?

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New Practices for 2020

Soon we bid farewell to one year in welcome of another. Soon we turn over the calendar, the decade; archiving it in the folds of yesterday’s memory.

And as is custom for me, I will leave behind the specialty mindfulness-strengthening exercises I started this past January and replace them with new ones to carry with me through the year, as a way to help keep my practice fresh and alive.

Each January, I pick up 2 or 3 new mindfulness-based practices, and lay down the ones from the previous year. In 2019, I adopted two new practices: 1. an Angst & Impatience tick-mark chart in my car, which I used diligently when driving and 2. 52-Weeks of Thank You’s.

Starting on January 1st, I’ll be picking up 3 new practices: 1. reading & practicing with one card a week from Thay’s deck of 108 meditation cards (recently published; see pic below) 2. transferring the Angst & Impatience chart for use when I’m on my laptop and 3. writing one haiku per day (or perhaps one per week, if doing it on the daily proves to be too much).

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100 Percent

Yesterday morning, I started watching a recent Dharma talk given by Brother Phap Dung at Plum Village Monastery, as part of the three-months Rains Retreat. In it, he spoke of a practice tool that I’d heard about a while back but had forgotten about (one that I intended to remember and put into use). He held up a business-sized card and in large bold type it read simply: 100%.

The Brother shared about how Thay (Thich Nhat Hanh) once gave all of the monks and nuns those cards as a practice tool, encouraging them to practice 100%.

In relation to the cards, the Brother also spoke about how we are the CEO of the business of making togetherness – how together, we are one. So, in a way, these cards can also serve as our actual business cards as practitioners and students of Thay. Our job is to practice mindfulness and connection; to show up in the world with compassion and kindness and curiosity; to build and strengthen and nourish community; to engage skillfully with our self and others, 100%.

I decided to make a stack of these cards with some cardstock I had on hand and a calligraphy pen. I placed one in my wallet and I made more to give out at my local sangha, for those who might be inspired to utilize its teaching. And at a gathering I went to last night, where there were some art supplies set out for community use, I fashioned a small wooden pendant with “100%” scrolled on it with colorful markers, which now dangles from the rearview mirror in my car.

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The Second Dharma Seal: Nonself (2 of 2)

(In this post, anything in quotation marks will be from The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching by Thich Nhat Hanh, as I’ll be referencing it throughout this post.)

This is part 2 of a two-part post.

“The Second Dharma Seal is nonself. Nothing has a separate existence or a separate self. Everything has to inter-be with everything else.”

My husband Mike and I recently had a conversation on whether/how nonself differed or was synonymous with interbeing. He came up with a great metaphor (no surprise – he has a true gift for creating metaphors.). He said: Nonself (aka a separate self) is what our cup is empty of; interbeing is what it’s full of. Brilliant!

My own working definition of nonself, as it differs but is related closely and is inseparable from interbeing: the more I come to see clearly my nonself nature – that I am a collage of an endless stream of causes and conditions – the more my insight of interbeing blooms and flourishes.

“Nonself is not a doctrine or a philosophy. It is an insight that can help us live life more deeply, suffer less, and enjoy life much more. We need to live the insight of nonself.”

“Nonself means that you are made of elements which are not you.”

Once again, how do we practice with this Dharma Seal so that we aren’t at risk of intellectualizing this teaching to a detriment?

Here’s what I came up with for myself.

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