Working Skillfully with Sexual Energy (1 of 2)

Nocturnal downpour
Wakes the lovers,
Floods the valley.

Making love is natural. Why be ashamed of it?

That seems simple, but it is actually a great challenge in these complex times. Too many other layers of meaning have been imposed upon sex. Religions straitjacket it, ascetics deny it, romantics glorify it, intellectuals theorize about it, obsessives pervert it. These actions have nothing to do with lovemaking. They come from fanaticism and compulsive behavior. Can we actually master the challenge of having lovemaking be open and healthy?

Sex should not be used as leverage, manipulation, selfishness, or abuse. It should not be a ground for our personal compulsions and delusions.

Sexuality is an honest reflection of our innermost personalities, and we should ensure that its expression is healthy. Making love is something mysterious, sacred, and often the most profound interaction between people. Whether what is created is a relationship or pregnancy, the legacy of both partners will be inherent in their creation. What we put into love determines what we get out of it.

– from 365 Tao: Daily Meditations, by Ming-Dao Deng

 

Next Monday, I am scheduled to give a teaching style talk on the topic of working skillfully with sexual energy at our local sangha Be Here Now.  My talk is also intentionally paired with our next installment of Mindful Community Conversations on Thursday October 3rd, which is centered on the same topic thread and will feature a 4-person panel.

This topic has been on my mind to delve more into for quite a while now, especially as I continue to hear from young, single sangha members about the trials and tribulations of the dating scene. There is so much to bring into the light of our awareness and out of stigma and shadow when it comes to sexual relationships. And I don’t mind telling you that I’ve not known quite where/how to start until recently. But starting somewhere is better than not starting at all, so this is our sangha giving it a go.

I plan on focusing on these two specific parts of the Third Mindfulness Training in our Plum Village mindfulness tradition:

– Aware of the suffering caused by sexual misconduct…

Seeing that body and mind are one, I am committed to learning appropriate ways to take care of my sexual energy.

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Am I Sure?

wake up to

On Saturday, August 10th, a short article I wrote for the Community of Faith column ran in the Missoulian. Here it is, in its entirety:

In our Buddhist based practice, the Plum Village tradition led by Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh, we are encouraged to practice with the question: Am I sure? Let’s say, for example, that I am confronted with someone whose way of engaging with the world is quite contrary to my own and I think to myself: Gosh, that person is crazy. In times such as these, my practice is to ask myself: Am I sure? Am I sure that I know full well what that person is going through and where they are coming from? Am I sure that I know what’s fueling their behavior or approach to a particular situation? Am I sure this person is crazy? The answer, on all counts, is clear. Of course not! I often have little to no idea of the causes and conditions that are propelling someone else’s thoughts, speech, and/or actions. My reactionary judgments that arise, in any given situation, are not at all an accurate and full accounting of what’s actually taking place.

It’s so very easy for me to think I know something when in truth I really have no idea at all, especially when it comes to assessing someone else’s character or behavior. Using the Am I sure? question affords me the opportunity to create space in between what’s happening externally and the thoughts/speech/actions that I engage in as a result. It allows me to move from reacting to responding.

Recently, I attended a local outdoor concert where a homeless resident of Missoula came on the scene and proceeded to disrupt the event by yelling violently, both to herself and to the band that was playing. In response to her behavior, there was a critical and disrespectful approach taken with her. In short order, I realized that I was likely the only one on hand that saw the immensity of distress present in this homeless woman. Others seemed only to be focused on how inappropriate and rude she was being, in an otherwise peaceful gathering. Had the other event-goers at the time been reflecting on the Am I sure? question, perhaps it would’ve become clear that the homeless woman was likely suffering deeply from the results of untreated mental illness, versus intentionally trying to cause harm and upset of a personal nature.

Thich Nhat Hanh adds further that if when we ask our self the question Am I sure? the answer is: Yes! that we should ask the question again.

I have great affection for this wisdom teaching and I use this practice question often in my daily life. I have found that it helps to keep me angled in the direction of understanding, compassion, and kindness, which are three foundational tenets of human connection.

Nicole Dunn is an ordained member of the Order of Interbeing in the Plum Village tradition and serves as the director of the Open Way Mindfulness Center and the program director of the Be Here Now Sangha.

For original article in the Missoulian, click here.

Eleven Guidelines for Daily Life

This morning, while reading Thay’s commentary on the Eight Realizations of the Great Beings sutra, in his book Awakening of the Heart, I came upon the Eleven Guidelines for Daily Life. I enjoyed this teaching right away and found it  deeply nourishing, so I thought I’d share it here.

Eleven Guidelines for Daily Life

By Thich Nhat Hanh, from Awakening of the Heart

“Here are eleven guidelines for daily life, based on the insights found in the sutra: (The Eight Realizations of the Great Beings):

  1. While meditating on the body, do not hope or pray to be exempt from sickness.  Without sickness, desires and passions can easily arise.
  2. While acting in society, do not hope or pray not to have any difficulties.  Without difficulties, arrogance can easily arise.
  3. While meditating on the mind, do not hope or pray not to encounter hindrances.  Without hindrances, present knowledge will not be challenged or broadened.
  4. While working, do not hope or pray not to encounter obstacles.  Without obstacles, the vow to help others will not deepen.
  5. While developing a plan, do not hope or pray to achieve success easily.  With easy success, arrogance can easily arise.
  6. While interacting with others, do not hope or pray to gain personal profit.  With the hope for personal gain, the spiritual nature of the encounter is diminished.
  7. While speaking with others, do not hope or pray not to be disagreed with.  Without disagreement, self-righteousness can flourish.
  8. While helping others, do not hope or pray to be paid.  With the hope of remuneration, the act of helping others will not be pure.
  9. If you see personal profit in an action, do not participate in it.  Even minimal participation will stir up desires and passions.
  10. When wrongly accused, do not attempt to exonerate yourself.   Attempting to defend yourself will create needless anger and animosity.
  11. The Buddha spoke of sickness and suffering as effective medicines.  Times of difficulties and accidents are also times of freedom and realization.  Obstacles can be a form of liberation.  The Buddha reminded us that the army of evil can be the guards of the Dharma.  Difficulties are required for success.  The person who mistreats one can be one’s good friend.  One’s enemies are as an orchard or garden.  The act of doing someone a favor can be as base as the act of casting away a pair of old shoes.  The abandonment of material possessions can be wealth and being wrongly accused can be the source of strength to work for justice.”

Interbeing and the Three Powers

I am currently practicing with the 10th Mindfulness Training in the Plum Village tradition of the Order of Interbeing (OI), with a friend and OI aspirant mentee of mine. We are spending two weeks on each of the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings. We try to read whichever one we’re on every day for the full two weeks and then, if we feel so inspired, we also journal about any thoughts/ideas that arise based on the training. Then we meet once a month and chat about our experience with the trainings we worked on since last we met.

Working through the Fourteen Trainings has been a lovely addition to my practice over the past few months. The only other time I’ve spent this kind of elongated practice energy with the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings was during my own aspirancy process, before receiving ordination as an OI member in 2007.

The Tenth Mindfulness Training: Protecting and Nourishing the Sangha

Aware that the essence and aim of a Sangha is the realization of understanding and compassion, we are determined not to use the Buddhist community for personal power or profit, or transform our community into a political instrument. As members of a spiritual community, we should nonetheless take a clear stand against oppression and injustice. We should strive to change the situation, without taking sides in a conflict. We are committed to learning to look with the eyes of interbeing and to see ourselves and others as cells in one Sangha body. As a true cell in the Sangha body, generating mindfulness, concentration and insight to nourish ourselves and the whole community, each of us is at the same time a cell in the Buddha body. We will actively build brotherhood and sisterhood, flow as a river, and practice to develop the three real powers – understanding, love and cutting through afflictions – to realize collective awakening.

(To read all fourteen, please click here.)

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Mormon Creek

 

Interloping flowers mixed with pines,
moisture soaked earth perfumed
with springtime.
Mormon Creek surges
rushing in my ears
eager to hear all they can of this place.

The forest is still,
steeped in an outer quietude
that translates inside,
where my heart beats with a fierceness
mirrored by the raging of fire
and glows with the luminosity
of 10,000 points of light.

And then there’s the settling –
once the trees penetrate the forest
of my armor and misgivings.
A calm that hushes the
swingings of thought
and presses pause on the ol’ to-do list,
in the most reasonable of ways.

And there’s never any doubt –
blatant or subtle –
that this interplay of self and nature
is anything other than right,
sensical, profound and sacred.

It’s never been – or ever will be –
a waste of time to ratchet down
and breathe among the trees,
where roots wind in sprawl underfoot
and plans become a thing to be had
some place else.

My tired eyes are propped open
by intrigue,
held deliciously captive by
sprigs of budding growth,
and the greening underbelly
of creation.

Serving with Grace

Last weekend, we enjoyed our local spring family retreat up on the Flathead Lake with our Montana sangha family. Twice a year, we organize local 3-day residential retreats: one in the spring and one in the fall. And each spring is a family retreat, where we invite children to attend alongside their parents. This year we had 59 adults and 25 young people, aged 3-15, for a total of 84 people.

Each spring, I serve as co-director on the retreat planning team. I also head up the children’s programming with my good friend Amy, so essentially I am on two different branches for organizing the retreat. We have one team for: managing all of the logistics with the camp facility we use, registration, and organizing the schedule for the adults and program elements with our visiting teacher(s) and another team for planning the kids programs that we offer.

Knowing I serve in this co-director capacity each spring, friends often ask me if these spring retreats are an actual retreat for me. My reply this year has been: Not in the classic sense of the word, no. These retreats for me are a rich opportunity to engage with work as spiritual and joyful practice.

I’ve recently started reading this book:

Serving with grace is a deep aspiration for me on the path of practice. And to speak to my full aspiration, I would add: serving with grace and kindness.

Supporting our young people and their parents to come on retreat; to be in touch with the nature and landscape of the lake and the surrounding woods; to be in touch with the Dharma and the Sangha is a great joy and a true calling for me. It’s also exhausting work too. But gosh, I have no qualms about getting worn out temporarily from undertaking such a lovely endeavor. Sometimes, putting all of our physical fuel into something can fill up the heart tank and gear us up for the next thing that comes along. The physical tank is easy to refill: food, rest, movement. But keeping the heart tank full, that’s where the real work happens.

 

Nourishing Happiness

This has been one of my very favorite passages to read from our Plum Village chanting book as of late and I wanted to share it. A big thank you to my friends at the Still Water Sangha in Minnesota for posting this on their blog, so I didn’t have to type it all out myself :)

Nourishing Happiness

Excerpt from “Chanting from the Heart” by Thich Nhat Hanh

Sitting here in this moment, protected by the Sangha,
my happiness is clear and alive.
What a great fortune to have been born a human,
to encounter the Dharma,
to be in harmony of others,
and to water the Mind of Love
in this beautiful garden of practice.

The energies of the Sangha and mindfulness trainings
are protecting and helping me not make mistakes
or be swept along in darkness by unwholesome seeds.
With kind spiritual friends, I am on the path of goodness,
illuminated by the light of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas.

Although seeds of suffering are still in me
in the form of afflictions and habit energies,
mindfulness is also there, helping me touch
what is most wonderful within and around me.

I can still enjoy mindfulness of the six senses:
my eyes look peacefully upon the clear blue sky,
my ears listen with wonder to the songs of birds,
my nose smells the rich scent of sandalwood,
my tongue tastes the nectar of the Dharma,
my posture is upright, stable and relaxed,
and my mind is one with my body.

If there were not a World-Honored One,
if there were not the wonderful Dharma,
if there were not a harmonious Sangha,
I would not be so fortunate
to enjoy this Dharma happiness today.

My resources for practice are my own peace and joy.
I vow to cultivate and nourish them with daily mindfulness.
For my ancestors, family, future generations,
and the whole of humanity, I vow to practice well.

In my society I know that there are countless people suffering,
drowned in sensual pleasure, jealousy, and hatred.
I am determined to take care of my own mental formations,
to learn the art of deep listening and using loving speech
in order to encourage communication and understanding
and to be able to accept and love.

Practicing the actions of a bodhisattva,
I vow to look with eyes of love and a heart of understanding.
I vow to listen with a clear mind and ears of compassion,
bringing peace and joy unto the lives of others,
to lighten and alleviate the suffering of living beings.

I am aware that ignorance and wrong perceptions
can turn this world into a fiery hell.

I vow to walk always upon the path of transformation,
producing understanding and loving kindness.
I will be able to cultivate a garden of awakening.

Although there are birth, sickness, old age, and death,
now I have a path of practice, I have nothing more to fear.
It is a great happiness to be alive in the Sangha
with the practice of mindfulness trainings and concentration,
to live every moment in stability and freedom
to take part in the work of relieving others’ suffering,
the career of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas.

In each precious moment, I am filled with deep gratitude.
I bow before the World-Honored One.
Please bear witness to my wholehearted gratitude,
embracing all beings with arms of great compassion.