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On Friendship

Art piece I commissioned from my stepson’s girlfriend Sierra (it’s her own design). To me, it’s the perfect wordless expression of the practice of cultivating joy – I just love it! It also depicts the power of what a good friendship has the potential to do: alight our inner landscape.

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I just started reading a new book that has me thinking about friendships: Ethan Nichtern’s The Dharma of “The Princess Bride.” It’s appropriately well timed, as my bearings have been shifting in this area, especially over the last year. I’ve been recently angling myself in the direction of pondering such questions as: Who are the people I want to spend my time with? What qualities do I find important in a friend? What are the different avenues of friendships and how do they compliment and/or contrast one another?

In light of my inner musings, I appreciated this passage from the book that I read just today:

“My teacher Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche has repeatedly made the same case: it matters whom you invite into your personal sphere. He calls it “hanging out with the right crowd.” He’s not talking about the cool kids. He’s talking about associating with those people who help you wake up…In fact, a Buddhist definition for best friend could simply be the person who helps you bring out your “best” qualities: mindfulness, generosity, patience, confidence, and creativity. The best friends are the ones who support your awakening, and whose awakening you in turn support.”

from The Dharma of “The Princess Bride” by Ethan Nichtern

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Soaking Wet & Still Smiling

Last night, my husband and I went to see Bon Iver at our local still newish outdoor amphitheater, located just outside of town in Bonner, Montana. It rained the whole…entire…time. Did I mention it was at an outdoor amphitheater? The last time I was that wet with my clothes on, I had volunteered at a mud run event and then chose to walk the course when my shift was over. I’d gotten moderately muddied up while traversing the course but my grand finale soaking-through came when swimming across a relatively deep muddy water pit at the end.

In comparing these two soaking-wet-with-clothes-on experiences, a notable distinction is that for one of them it was my choice and for the other it totally wasn’t. One was outside of my control. And that makes a HUGE difference, by the way. In terms of how we approach and energetically receive an experience, control has everything to do with it.

We arrived to the venue early. With grass seats and never having been to the amphitheater before, we wanted to stake out a good spot and do our best to ensure prime viewing. This meant, however, that we were soaked through well-before the concert was even set to start. In this semi-arid part of the country, it’s not often that we get a rain that lasts for hours on end without pause. But that’s sure what happened last night! The rain increased and decreased in heftiness and vigor, but it rained truly the whole time we were there. For three hours, we sat holed up in our Crazy Creek chairs atop small mats, raincoats, and blue tarp, slowly becoming more saturated as time went on. I read it was a sold out show. And with a capacity of 4,000, it meant we were in good company.

Since umbrellas weren’t allowed (as they would obstruct the view of those behind you), I enjoyed seeing what creative solutions people came up with to shield themselves from the wet weather. We were like a sea of huddled masses, ghosts, lagoon creatures, and woodland survivalists in our assortment of blankets, ponchos, rain gear, plastic sheeting, and cloaks. It was comforting, and somehow made the experience more tolerable, to feel the friendly camaraderie of being in it together, wrapped up in rain-shielding materials.

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Tell Me How It Is

Speak to me of what makes your eyes spark to life. Speak to me about the heart of your experience. Speak not in fragrant poetic verse, unless there is authenticity in so doing.

Don’t put a spin on things to help soften the blow of your inner strife. I want you to tell me like it is; what it means to be you in your own skin. I am not interested in meeting a version of you – one you gussy up for company: muted, fake, and dull. I don’t want to meet you in passing, sharing only pleasantries and hollow sentiments.

This may sound strange. It may even scare you off, but it’s a risk I’m willing to take. I want to absorb you fully and consume you. I want to dissolve the separation we think exists between us and become one being – all of us, in this together.

 

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Upon Waking

A little something I wrote early this morning, upon waking:

Within five minutes of waking, I had come up with a handful of things to be grateful for.

Within fifteen minutes, I was reminded of how sometimes – lots of times – my husband does not smell good, even when he’s sound asleep.

Within twenty minutes, I had scooped a teaspoon of loose gunpowder green tea peals into my tea strainer and delighted in the noise it made whilst tumbling in, akin to graupel on a windowpane. And I’d been bowled over for a brief moment by the realization that having running water is a great luxury not everyone has (the sound of which reminded me that in my exuberance to put pen to paper, I’d forgotten to pee).

Within thirty minutes, I deflated a bit when remembering that today, my Saturday would include an unscheduled trip to Grimebusters Laundromat, due to the fact that one of our cats peed in our bed last night, all the way through the comforter and both sheets. And I invested brain power in once again trying to come up with a less churlish-sounding substitute word for ‘pee.’

Within an hour, I was surrounded by a collection of papered items, which would relay to someone who didn’t know me that I’m both a writer and a Buddhist.

Within an hour and five minutes, I’d been given goosebumps upon reading a new bit of writing that I myself had crafted – and I didn’t feel silly or shameful about it (which is a newer development).

And within one hour and 48 minutes, I had run the gamut of thought, vacillating from birth to old age to death; from ideas for spoken word pieces to all the people I love and adore (including a whopping 4 friends who all have their birthday today!); and from that which stirs me up to that which serves to knock me down.

 

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Beyond Words

I regard my spoken word show and album release – having taken place on Friday night – not as my own but as a collective endeavor of all those who offered their love, support, time, and encouragement from near and far away; all who influenced me along the way; and every life experience I’ve had the pleasure and opportunity to have thus far in my 38-years of living.

It’s hard to put certain things into words – which is really saying something when you’re a writer.

But any good writer knows that you can’t capture the feelings invoked by watching a sunset in the limiting net of words scribed on paper.

Any good writer knows that you can’t fully describe the sumptuous taste of chocolate; or the depth of ease felt after taking a walk in the woods or a dip in the river; or the warmth of spirit generated from being surrounded by the very best people.

My gratitude and love for all the people I have the distinct pleasure of knowing is vast, like the expanse of ocean, sky, and stretching of the universe that weaves us all together in its grace.

With all the heart that I can muster,
Nicole

pic taken yesterday at the Garden of One Thousand Buddhas in Arlee, Montana

 

 
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Posted by on March 11, 2018 in Special Events

 

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Runneth Over

I was reading the Fourteen Mindfulness trainings on Saturday morning and I guess this guy wanted to see what all the fuss was about :)

 

My cup runneth over with inspiration, information, and heartbreak for the people. I’m rather at a loss of how to reign it all in to fashion this post. Over the past week, I’ve had the opportunity to engage with a wealth of different people and topics that have given rise to a myriad of emotions, thoughts, and ideas.

Today marks the last day of our local 10-day 15th annual Big Sky Documentary Film Festival. During the span of the festival, I saw films highlighting a number of issues, including: domestic violence, the oppression of our LGBTQ community, Native land rights, coal mining and mountain top removal in West Virginia, and the plight of orangutans and loss of forested habitat.

As a representative of our Buddhist sangha and active participant in our local interfaith community, I also attended a couple of events with a retired Evangelical pastor who was brought to town by both our local Christian faith communities and the Sierra Club: Pastor Tri Robinson. Tri Robinson is a conservative, Republican, evangelical, pastor-rancher that is adamant that evangelical Christians should be working to address the climate crisis as part of their Christian calling. I attended the first U.S premier of the film showing of Cowboy and Preacher on Friday night, for which Tri was the focal subject. And last night my husband and I attended his keynote address on the university campus entitled: Creation Care and the Christian Church. Both events were simply fantastic and provided a great deal of nourishment and inspiration to me as a spiritual leader motivated strongly to help support others and care well for our planet.

And then there’s the issue of what’s been happening in the wake of the school shooting that took place in Florida recently. My 18-year-old stepson’s high school was the target of a number of threats this past week. As parents, we were alerted via email and recorded phone messages about each instance and kept well informed. On Thursday, I received an email stating that the school was on lock-down, due to a threat posed to the student body. And while, for better or worse – and probably for both – I didn’t regard the threats as being of a serious nature that would actually give rise to actual harm being inflicted, my heart broke for my stepson and the other students, teachers, and staff who were having to weather and situate themselves amid that atmosphere, however hollow and empty the threats might have been.

Over the past week, too, I met with a few different close friends and sangha members, some of whom were seeking support with a particular matter. I had the chance to experience the vulnerability of a few individuals in trusting me with their stories and struggles, which is a privilege and honor that humbles me deeply.

Yesterday, as part of my Mindful Morning Saturday routine, I watched a Dharma talk given on February 12th by Brother Phap Man, a monk in the Plum Village tradition who resides at Blue Cliff Monastery. His talk – which I watched in two sessions and finished this morning – was entitled: Healing Ourselves, Healing Our World, and focused on matters of racial discrimination, sexism, white privilege, and detrimental cultural biases.

I met with two hospice patients. I spent a day nannying for two young boys. I worked to pull together logistics for our upcoming spring family retreat, for which I serve as co-director, in charge of registration and also putting together and running the kids programming. I met with a good friend who’s offered to be my sound guy in the venue for my upcoming scary new adventure of having a CD release party and solo spoken word performance. And there’s more, too.

So much happens in the span of one week’s time. And some weeks, like this past one, involve a bit more than usual, in the realm of sensory input.

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Posted by on February 25, 2018 in Everyday Practice

 

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Deer Park Wrap Up

Tonight at my local sangha, Be Here Now, Mike and I, and a few of our sangha friends who recently spent time on retreat at Deer Park, will be offering a Deer Park (DP) retreat sharing panel as part of our format. There will be 5 of us on the panel and we’ll each share for 5 minutes or so about whatever is alive in our heart and our practice in regards to our time at DP. I plan on starting with a short intro and background about DP and then after the panel we’ll open up for Q & A. If there’s time, I also plan on showing a 10-minute DP video montage I put together from footage I took in January during our 3-week stay. And if there’s not time, then it’ll be an addendum after we close the group, for those wanting to stick around to watch it. I’m looking forward to this evening and hearing from my other friends about their retreat stay!

Here’s what I plan on saying for my sharing:

The importance of sangha practice is not new to me but I did delve deeper into this insight when I was at DP this last time. Being in close contact and interaction with my sangha – whether it’s my local home sangha, larger statewide Montana sangha, or the community at DP – is not an additional component of my mindfulness practice, like adding parmesan cheese to the top of a bowl of pasta. Sangha practice is equivalent to the tomatoes needed to make the sauce. It’s a necessary and critical ingredient.

Despite how strong and diligent my practice is with peppering in a variety of mindfulness tools and exercises throughout the day, if I were to stop attending sangha and stop attending retreats, my practice would eventually fall off and take a nose dive. Sangha practice is not just something nice to sprinkle in to my life when I have time or when I’m really craving connection, sangha practice is the center of the wooden wheel, which all the spokes splay out from.

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