Four Elements of Lay Life

Lately, I’ve been thinking about what the foundational elements of my life are, as a lay practitioner in the Plum Village Buddhist tradition. A while back, I watched a Dharma talk online from a monastic Sister where she spoke of the founding principles of monastic life at the monasteries in our tradition and I think, if I remember right, what I’ve landed on is similar to what she shared.

I’ve identified four elements – and to be clear, theses are ones I’ve simply recognized are true and in play for myself personally, this is not any sort of official list adopted by anyone other than myself.

Nicole’s Four Foundational Elements of Lay Practice Life

  1. Practice (includes Dharma study)
  2. Work
  3. Rest
  4. Play (includes music/art/creative expression)

For me, it’s helpful to understand clearly what my foundational elements are as a lay practitioner so that I know what my priorities are and in what direction I want to be spending my time and limited energy. Life is about balance. And for me it’s about balancing these four elements, often on a daily basis.

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Non-Attachment

In Buddhism, we have teachings centered around non-attachment. But how do we apply this and make sense of it as laypeople – with romantic partners and close friends and kids and family and pet people?

And aren’t we also encouraged – neigh urged – in our particular mindfulness tradition, to take refuge in the sangha? To lean on and lean into our people for love and support, care and connection?

How do we reconcile this paradox?

I think I figured it out. Ready?

I think what it comes down to is that it’s not that we need to love, depend, and rely on our people any less than we are – it’s not that we need to un-attach from them, necessarily. It’s that we need to simultaneously love and depend and rely on our own self too. We need to enjoy and revel in our own company, just as much as we enjoy and revel in the company of our closest people.

Perhaps non-attachment, then, refers to our ability to keep good company with our own self, right alongside of giving mad love to those we adore and cherish when we’re in their company.

Chronicles of a Sick Person

Facebook Posts:

3/8:
With a 100.5 degree fever and feeling as though I’ve been run over by a truck, I’m athinking my planned solo saunter to JJ Hot Springs to celebrate Mike and I’s anniversary tomorrow is out. What can I say? Sickness happens. It’s part of life.

And now, please excuse me while I return to bed to languish. Alas, I fear that death is near. Go on without me!

3/9:
Okay. Well. It would’ve been a lovely day to go to the hot springs today as I’d planned, to celebrate Mike & I’s anniversary – the sun is shining and the sky is blue here in Missoula. But I am still super sick – though my fever has come down a bit, which is nice. While I’m bummed my plans were thwarted, let’s be real, is it ever a “good” time to get sick?

3/9:
Sick person cave checklist:

– Multiple blankets and pillows for managing my hot & cold flashes and shifting comfort levels associated with everything hurting: check!
– Heating pad and heating blanket: check!
– Can of ginger ale within arm’s reach: check!
– Thermometer: check!
– Handkerchief: check!
– Laptop with Netflix: check!
– Bottles of water (even though thus far they’ve gone untouched, because for some reason water sounds horrible to drink right now): check!
– Curtains drawn to keep out the light (because I have pronounced light sensitivity): check!
– Bag of Halls: check!
– A still pretty good attitude: check!
– A cat that is part super great (see pic below) and part super not, depending on the moment at hand: check!

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Just Do It/Just Don’t

In my last post, I mentioned having recently gone on a short excursion to Portland with a friend of mine, to visit a mutual friend of ours. For three days and three nights, the three of us did pretty much everything together. It was really lovely.

During our first full day together, we stumbled upon a saying that wound up becoming our trip’s guiding mantra: Just do it…just don’t. It was spurred by a car sporting a Nike Just Do It bumper sticker. We were getting ready to enter a tunnel on our way to visit the coast, when a car hopped in front of us rather abruptly (ya know, the way cars often do) (oh, and we’ve all been that car too – just sayin), with their Just Do It sticker beaming proudly in close view. The dialog in our car then went something like this:

Geese, what is that guy doing?!

He’s “just doing it”, I guess.

(Pause)

Well, I think it should’ve been more like: “just don’t.”

We then proceeded to carry this interplay of Just Do It/Just Don’t into an array of occasions throughout the rest of our trip together. Some times it was jokingly and sometimes it had real meaning, while still in the spirit of lightness and fun. Turns out, there are a plethora of opportunities in which to bust these guiding life statements out.

There’s great wisdom in knowing when – and how – to invoke the dharma of Just Do It/Just Don’t. When we learn how to call on them in a suitable fashion that is appropriate to our own individual situation, with Right Attitude and Right Intention, we can actualize the fruits of the practice of Right Action.

There are times to Just Do It and there are times to Just Don’t. And there are no one-size-fits-all answers as to when to apply which one to which string of moments. This is why we must ongoingly cultivate a strong relationship with our own person. If we’re not able to tune into our own mental, emotional, and spiritual landscapes, we will have no clue as to when to use each part of the mantra, as only we our self can know which instance calls for which part.

If we’re not well-connected with our own person, we also run the risk of going the Just Do It route when really we would’ve been much better off having gone the Just Don’t route, or vice versa. There are plenty of times when we would do well to push ourselves a little bit outside of our comfort zone, too. In general, I think more of us have the tendency to say Just Don’t than Just Do It.

So, feel free to use our trip motto, if you like. And if you do, please let me know how it goes :)

I Think We’ve Got It Backwards

Okay. So, what I’m about to post here has taken me almost a year to flesh out and wrap my brain around. Here goes.

In our Buddhist practice tradition, we have this teaching: This is because that is. Short-handing it, it means: Everything happens for a reason, based on a myriad of causes and conditions. On a similar note, I see as though we have two large components of life backwards, and one leads to the other.

The first thing we commonly have backwards:

A) We often see and regard ourselves as being separate/independent/unique in times when we would do well to strengthen our ability to look with the eyes of interbeing and get in touch with our similarities, shared humanity, and true sense of connection.

and

B) We often see and regard ourselves as being the same in times when we would do well to cultivate a deeper understanding of our individuality.

___________

And because of this first thing we commonly have backwards, it leads to this second thing we commonly have backwards:

C) We try to lone-wolf it in times when we would do well to lean on our loved ones for care, support, and nourishment.

and

D) We rely on others in times when we would do well to cultivate and/or strengthen our sovereignty.

__________

So, D is because of B and C is because of A. This is because that is.

I realize this might be confusing, like I said: it’s taken me a year to flesh this out. Here are some practical examples that will hopefully help a bit (with corresponding letters that match with the points above):

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He’s Leaving On A Jet Plane

pic taken on Jan. 23rd, 2019

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.

 

 

Interbeing, part 3

It’s one thing to say We’re all in the together or We’re all interconnected or We are not separate from one another, and a whole other thing to truly understand, actively engage in, and PRACTICE enfolding the truth of our interbeing nature into our daily lives.

If we don’t learn, investigate, and actively use the tools given to us in the fluid art of cultivating mindfulness, we run the very high risk of getting caught in theory, intellect, and notions. It’s super easy to read about mindfulness. It’s super easy to call ourselves a practitioner or a Buddhist or whatever label that tickles our fancy (spiritual, seeker…). It’s even easy to say we understand what the heck mindfulness is, when in actuality we have no freakin idea and are doing little to nothing in the taking action department.

There are a lot of things that sound good in the context of our practice tradition (by which I’m referring to the Plum Village tradition based in the teaching of Thich Nhat Hanh). Here are a few examples: mindfulness, interbeing, letting go, compassion, true love, ease, joy, liberation, transformation. These sound great right?! What lovey concepts! Ah. But they are NOT concepts in the realm of our tradition. As practitioners we must work to dislodge these and other teachings from being mere concepts/ideas that sound nice and turn them into workable, actionable turnings of body, speech, and mind.

What does it mean to look with the eyes of interbeing, as our practice encourages us to do? A big part has to do with our becoming observers of our physical, mental, and emotional landscape – and then eventually moving from observer to a dutiful and faithful guard of the Four Kinds of Nutriments that fuel and propel us: edible foods, sense impressions, volition, and consciousness. In order to look through the lens of interbeing we must be able to look clearly and accurately inwards, at our own selves. We cannot do the work of connecting deeply with others and dissipating our divisions of separation if we’ve not learned how to properly get in touch and grow familiar with our own person.

The Buddha said that everything needs food in order to survive. Nothing can survive without nourishment/food. In order to develop our ability to engage with the world from a place of interbeing, we must be firmly in touch with what input we’re allowing to enter through our body and mind and the heart of our experience. As two of the nutriments in particular can often pose some confusion (volition & consciousness), I would like to offer my own spin:

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