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Tag Archives: gratitude

The River Is High

The Clark Fork River is high, here in Missoula Montana. Swelling and spilling over its bank high. Flood stage high. Whole trees and mobile homes being carried downstream high.

Yesterday, I grabbed a shovel and some work gloves and headed to the staging area on 3rd Street to help fill sandbags. It was the same shovel I used to help during the in-town avalanche cleanup efforts here in town a few years ago. I know because it was still marked with duct tape – a way to distinguish it from the rest.

Dozens upon dozens of folks came out to take part in the volunteer efforts. Some volunteers even drove into town from over an hour away. I spent 5 1/2 hours at the sandbag station, with a 30-minute hiatus to fetch dinner for Mike & Jaden. I ate in the car on my way back to resume the second part of my shift, then left for the day just before 8:00pm.

While filling, moving, and stacking sandbags, I spoke with a woman who’d just returned from army training the previous day; I tag-teamed a few bags with a middle-school boy, who was apologetic every time he spilled some of the sand he was trying to get into the bag I was holding open for him, despite my friendly efforts to tell him it was par for the course in filling sandbags; I overheard an older woman tell a fellow shoveler that she was recently diagnosed with an extremely rare disease that will likely render her blind within the next 3-years; I joked around with a couple of guys as we all worked side-by-side atop the big mound of sand, as though we were victorious hikers who’d staked claim to a mountain peak; I enjoyed the synergy generated between myself and a young 20-something year-old trainer from the Bitterroot, as I passed down my filled bags to him, from my eventually lone and dwindling perch situated at the top of the heap; and my heart warmed at the short break we all took around 7:00pm to sing Happy Birthday to a 10-year-old girl, who insisted that she didn’t want to do anything to celebrate her birthday other than help fill sandbags.

Gosh I just love this town.

Today, my body is terribly sore. My hands are stiff and aching. And my ring-finger on my left hand is numb. It’s not ideal timing to be in such a painful physical state, as I’m in charge of our big community yard sale fundraiser at our local meditation center on Saturday, and I have a full day of sorting and prepping the sea of donations we’ve collected over the last 2 months tomorrow. AND, I’m quite sure that there’s no where else I would’ve rather been yesterday afternoon and evening.

My aches and pains will subside – and they’re a small price to pay in comparison to those who’s houses are being threatened or held in limbo by the rising river.

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Posted by on May 10, 2018 in Community

 

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Waiting is the Hardest Part

Last night, I participated in an interfaith concert event called Tangible Hope, which was put together by the Missoula Interfaith Collaborative (MIC). Every year we have an interfaith summit event, but this was the first year is was turned into a concert at the Wilma Theater.

It was a wonderfully diverse concert, starting with bagpipes and ending with a Christian rock band, with a hand bell ensemble, community choir, and local singer/songwriter sandwiched in between. Included in the mix were also a couple of speakers and two storytellers, which is where I came in.

After weeks of preparation and a workshop session with our local storytelling pro Marc Moss, who runs Tell Us Something here in Missoula, here’s what I came up with along the topic theme of Tangible Hope:

In the fall of 2002, when I was 23 years old, I started a weekly meditation group called Be Here Now, based in the Buddhist tradition of Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh. And for the first 8-years, I was the sole facilitator of the group. Flash-forward to present day, we are now over 15 years old and have grown from a small meditation group into an active, vibrant, and relatively large sangha. And in Buddhism, the word sangha means: spiritual community. In our tradition, sangha is one of the most important and highly emphasized components that we are called to develop and strengthen in our daily lives. Sangha is an action verb; and it’s a quality of heartfulness that propels us in the direction of cultivating brotherhood and sisterhood. And for me, when I practice to fully embody the spirit of sangha, I’m also able to encounter it wherever I go.

As an example: I remember a time a few years ago when I was standing in a long security line at the LAX airport. I had just spent 4-weeks on a retreat at Deer Park monastery, which is based in our tradition located in southern CA, so I went from this beautiful, sequestered and quiet environment to a place that was decidedly quite different: LAX. And as I was standing in that security line a wonderful insight arose, which was that I didn’t feel as though I had left a lovely setting with my extended sangha friends and was now tossed into a hectic and unpleasant environment filled with grumpy strangers; I felt as though I had simply transitioned from one sangha to another – from my monastery sangha to my air traveling sangha. This insight allowed me to interact with the space and the people around me in a different way – a way that was more open, friendly, caring, and kind. So, when I look and operate through the lens of sangha I experience it wherever I go, all around me because I carry it with me and I actively create it.

Our teacher Thich Nhat Hanh says that sangha is more than a community, it’s a deep spiritual practice. So, it involves relationship building, spending time together, learning how to communicate and negotiate with various personalities and ways of doing things – it involves interacting with everyone around us in a way that promotes love and connection. And oftentimes the work of sangha building, of community and relationship building, is not easy. I’m reminded of our very first Be Here Now council meeting, which took place in November of 2010. There were 7 of us in attendance and it was the first time we were delving into the group becoming more of a collective endeavor, vs. just me holding down the fort. People shared a wealth of feedback and input mostly centered around all the changes they wanted to see have made; things we weren’t doing that we should be doing, things we were doing that we shouldn’t be doing, format adjustments, and so on. And what I recall most about this first meeting is getting home afterwards and breaking down crying. I was so overwhelmed, wondering how we would be able to incorporate everyone’s ideas and changes they wanted to see made and I was filled with worry that the simplicity and loveliness of our group was going to be lost. So, while it took some time to adjust and find our way together as a council and we had some growing pains, it was also the most beneficial thing we could’ve done to help ensure the health and vibrancy and stability of our group. So while it’s often challenging to do this work of sangha building, it’s also incredibly important that we do it.

And I’m so very grateful to be part of a tradition that ushers us in this direction and that we have the great fortune to be partners with the MIC in this regard, so that we can extend our capacity for sangha building outwards to include our interfaith sangha, which then ripples out to include our citywide Missoula sangha, our statewide Montana sangha, our nationwide American sangha, and our global worldwide sangha. Because the good news is: we’re all in this together, truly, there is no separation. And for this reality – and the opportunity that we have to be part of this interfaith collaborative – I am filled with joy and appreciation, because it’s this work that will allow us to continue beautifully into the future.

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Tell People You Love Them

A few weeks ago, I got an email from my cousin Matt’s girlfriend, asking folks to write a little something up about/for Matt, to help celebrate his 40th birthday. She wanted to put together a surprise book for him, filled with personal sentiments from his friends and family.

When I first read her email ask, my first reactionary thought was: Gosh, I’d love to do this – especially since I can’t be there to help celebrate his birthday (he lives in Philly) – but I’ve got so many other projects and events and articles I’m working on. The dust of my running to-do list quickly settled, however, and this more heart-centered response soon followed: I love my cousin. This is important. This is more important than most of the other stuff I’m doing. How wonderful that she’s pulling this together. Of course I’ll write something!

Here’s what I wrote and sent her to include in the book:

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Interfaith Work & Sangha Building

I’m currently reaching maximum saturation levels in terms of my usage of time spent on writing projects, events planning, managing meetings and gatherings, and attending a variety of other functions. I’m in the boat right now of practicing to say no when it comes to the question as to whether or not to take something else on – AND it’s going well, too, I might add.

Factoring into all the many lovely things I’ve chosen to do with my time is to: tell a story on stage at the Wilma Theater here in town on May 5th, as part of an interfaith concert and celebration event called Tangible Hope, submit an article to be considered for publication in the Mindfulness Bell for their sangha building issue (slated to come out in the fall), and write a short piece for the Community of Faith section in our local newspaper (for their May 12th edition).

Is interfaith work and sangha building different? Ultimately, no, I think not. When I look and engage through the lens of sangha building, I see clearly that sangha exists wherever I go. It’s all around me. Whether in the setting of my home sangha of Be Here Now or my larger Plum Village family, or my growing relationships and partnerships with local pastors and interfaith members as part of the Missoula Interfaith Collaborative (MIC), which I serve to represent our communities of Be Here Now and Open Way with, sangha is an action verb; it’s a quality of heartfulness that propels me in the direction of cultivating brotherhood and sisterhood.

From the story I plan on telling as part of the Tangible Hope concert event:

I remember a time a few years ago when I was standing in a long security line at the LAX airport – I had just spent a month on a retreat at a monastery in our tradition in southern CA, so I went from this beautiful, sequestered and quiet environment to a place that was decidedly quite different. As I was standing in the security line, I had the wonderful insight that I didn’t feel as though I had left a lovely setting with my extended sangha and was now tossed into a hectic and unpleasant environment with grumpy strangers; I had simply transitioned from one sangha to another: from my monastery sangha into my air traveling sangha! This insight allowed me to interact with the space and the people around me in a different way – a way that was more open, friendly, caring, and kind. So, when I look and operate through the lens of sangha I experience it wherever I go, all around me – I carry it with me and I actively create it.

If we are truly invested in building sangha – aka spiritual community – then we must practice to envelop it fully into our lives and not relegate it to just our own beloved circles consisting of those whom we share most closely and are most comfortable with. The true spirit of sangha building must be all inclusive; this is the only way we can serve as agents of change in the world and continue beautifully into the future.

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Morning Verse

Just before I awoke this morning, at 4:49am – 13-minutes before my alarm was set to sound – I remember these words clearly entering my dreamscape: It’s a good thing happiness isn’t waiting for you in the future; it’s waiting for you right now!

When my eyes popped up, a smile alighted my face and I recited this morning verse:

Waking up, I greet the new day with a smile.
May I engage with openness, kindness, and gratitude on my path of practice today.

 

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Nourishment & Healing

This is a post in pics. Last night, before attending a high school drama production my stepson was part of, I went for a solo saunter in the woods. By the end of the evening, I was nourished, fed, and inspired by a multitude of influences: the woods that surrounded me, the river that flowed beside the trail,

the sky in sprawl above in a budding spring blue,

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Transitions

I’ve been investing intentional practice around the fact that my stepson is growing older and will soon be “out there,” left to his own devices, since even before he entered high school, so as not to not experience what I’ve heard so many parents of senior-year students speak to, in terms of being caught off guard and full of sorrow that their kids were all grown up and moving out. It seemed to me a rather implausible reality that a parent should feel so suddenly disjointed at the prospect of their child reaching a certain young-adult maturity level, as though they somehow didn’t see it coming all the years of their youth and moving out to start a life of their own wasn’t part of the deal.

But now I sorta get it.

Despite all my efforts to look deeply into the nature of impermanence and work to develop my practice in the art of letting go, just the other day I suddenly realized that my husband and I’s time with my 18-year old stepson is incredibly short. I did the math. Given how our residential schedule is lined out in our parenting plan – a schedule we’ve up-held diligently since he was at the tail end of first grade – we have a total of three remaining weeks with him until he graduates from high school, at which point he will be choosing to live full time with his mom and stepdad.

Just this morning I came across a lovely quote from Jack Kornfield on twitter, which states: To let go does not mean to get rid of. To let go means to let be. When we let be with compassion, things come and go on their own.

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Posted by on March 23, 2018 in Everyday Practice

 

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