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On Mental & Emotional Health

I am becoming more and more invested in furthering the dialog that this meme speaks to, as I feel it is a vital component of our well-being and one that is highly undervalued and overlooked in our collective society, to a sometimes tragic and devastating detriment to our fellow human beings.

I recently watched two different interviews with psychologist and neuroscientist Dr. Rick Hanson – one as part of the online World Mindfulness Parenting Summit and one as part of the online Mindful Kids Peace Summit. In both occasions, he spoke about our three basic needs: safety, satisfaction, and connection. He explained that safety is associated with our reptilian brain-stem; satisfaction with our mammalian sub-cortex portion of the brain; and connection with our primate/human neo-cortex portion of the brain. In terms of safety, we look towards avoiding harm. In terms of satisfaction, we look towards approaching rewards. And in terms of connection, we look towards attaching to others.

He goes on to say that when our basic needs are not met, we then enter what he calls the red zone, which involves fight, flight, or freeze mode. However, when we build up our core of resilient well-being, we will be able to weather an increasing array of external stimuli without destabilizing ourselves. He said: You can use your mind to change your brain. He also said: No one can stop you (from doing this work) AND no one can do it for you.

There’s a reason that Buddhism focuses on training and strengthening the mind. It is the seat of working and active power when it comes to how we view, engage, interact, process, and digest the world around us and the people and experiences we encounter. As the Buddha taught:

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Right &…Regular? (part 2 of 2)

Image credit: I copied this from a talk I watched on Youtube by Sister Dieu Nghiem; she included this chart on a whiteboard. 

In continuance of the thread I started in part 1 of this post topic, I wanted to share a little bit more about right and regular.

Sister Dieu Nghiem mapped out this chart (image above) in a talk she gave back in October at Plum Village. Simply put, this chart represents the equation of what it means to have and develop right diligence. Right diligence involves: not watering the unwholesome seeds that lie in our consciousness, stopping to water the unwholesome seeds once they rise up and become a mental formation (or active state of mind), watering the wholesome seeds that lie in our consciousness, and continuing to water the wholesome seeds once they rise up and become a mental formation.

So, what then is regular diligence? Let’s say that someone has been meditating for a long time – we’ll say 5 years. And for those 5 years, they’ve been sitting every single day in the morning for 20-minutes. This equates to this person having sat a total of 36,500 minutes in meditation. However, despite the fact that they’ve been diligent in sitting every day for 20-minutes, they don’t really feel as though they’ve benefited very much at all from their practice (and neither do their loved ones, by the way). They are still just as restless, agitated, stressed out, overwhelmed at work, and short-tempered with their partner as they were when they were driven to starting a daily habit of meditation in the first place, 5 years ago. Yes, this person has been diligent in sitting but we couldn’t – and shouldn’t – consider this to be right diligence because it hasn’t increased this person’s ability to transform and heal.

As a recap from part 1: I recently watched a talk by Sister Dieu Nghiem on Youtube and she described wholesome habit energies as leading us in the direction of transformation and healing and unwholesome habit energies as that which leads us in the direction of suffering. And I think this explanation applies here, with the word wholesome equating to the word right. So we could say that right stands in accordance with a thought/word/action that propels us in the direction of transformation and healing.

In the Discourse on Youth and Happiness, it states:

Beings produce wrong perceptions concerning objects of desire. That is why they are caught in desire. Because they do not know what desire really is.

For our purposes here, I would translate this as there being an important difference between regular desire and right desire. In consulting with my old pal dictionary.com, desire is defined as such: to wish or long for; crave; want. In our current and modern time, I would define regular desire as incorporating the energetic components of craving, grasping, and attachment and right desire as incorporating such things as being realistically driven by determined will and being governed and propelled into action by a sovereign foundation rooted in solidity and ease. I regard right desire as enfolding the premise of what this meme offers, which I recently shared in a post a few days ago and is serving as my newly held encouraging anthem:

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Groundwork

This morning, I woke up earlier than usual (3:30am). I did some writing, followed by some dancing and exercise involving hand weights, followed by 30-minutes of sitting meditation, which I conclude with a daily gratitude practice that I do. How wonderful it was that I had ample time for all three before heading out to work! And it occurred to me:

Writing affords me the ability to prepare well my mindscape for the day. Dance/movement/exercise affords me the ability to prepare well my body for the day. And meditation affords me the ability to prepare well my heart for the day.

Input = output. For me to continue to show up in the best way possible for: myself, others, the world, and each moment as it unfolds, I must continue to guard well my senses and the input that I allow and bring in. I must be aware of how I lay the foundation for my day each morning when I rise.

 

 
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Posted by on January 28, 2019 in Everyday Practice

 

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Mindful Morning Saturday

Offering incense in the dark of early morning

I’m not sure how long ago I started this practice I call Mindful Morning Saturday, maybe a year or so. I’ve posted about it before but I was inspired to post about it again, simply because it’s adds so much benefit, energy, and joyfulness to my weekend.

As an ordained OI member (Order of Interbeing), I am asked to partake in a certain amount of Days of Mindfulness every year – 60, to be precise. And this particular OI requirement often poses some head scratching for folks, both before and after they ordain. True to form, we are not given any specifics as to how to manifest this and are left instead to use our own intelligence and insight in developing our own relationship with how to put this into active practice.

I ordained in 2007. For the first few years after that, I simply continued to attend our locally held retreats twice a year, as well as any locally held special events and days of mindfulness organized by my sangha. Then, in 2014, I started going on retreat to Deer Park Monastery for 3-4 weeks at a time every January. So for the past five years I’ve been closer than ever before, in terms of meeting the required 60 days of mindfulness.

For years, I’d wanted to figure out a way to insert a Day of Mindfulness into my home life routine once a week but I hadn’t known a good way to do it. I think like many of us OI members who are perplexed by this requirement of ordination, I was caught in thinking that a Day of Mindfulness had to be a WHOLE entire day, which seemed impossible if I was interested in doing it every week.

Then, just last year I think it was, I started thinking about the Days of Mindfulness I would participate in while I was staying at Deer Park. Most Sundays at Deer Park are an open Day of Mindfulness, where folks are welcome and encouraged to come to the monastery for a day of practice. The Days of Mindfulness there generally start at 9:00am and end after lunch, around 1:00pm. They aren’t a WHOLE entire day. They typically last about 4-hours. Once I realized this, I started thinking about my own 60 Days of Mindfulness differently.

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More On Why I Practice

Were it not for my engaged practice of mindfulness in the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh, I’d be flailing around like so many others I see, chasing after the next heightened experience; the next joint or drink; the next exciting romance or sexcapade; the next party or music festival or wild time – whatever it took to remind me that I was alive and everything didn’t suck.

An unchecked reality will do this. An untended to self-landscape will yield these results. A life unguided by ongoing skill-building and connection will amount to dis-ease and a never-quenched longing for something…more – or at the very least: something else.

Gratefully, I am afforded skills, tools, resources, encouragement, support, and teachers that show me how to take responsibility for my well-being; how to work with my mind; and how to actively cultivate present moment resting, grounding, and appreciating. With the practice, I am given the opportunity to learn how to stop seeking after transcendental moments, forever stuck in the false view that happiness equates to some kind of fantastical euphoria only possible in the some other realm of consciousness, or when I’ve found a way to magically start living without having to do such things as wash the dishes, take the trash out, pay the bills, and clean up the bodily functions of my aging cat (which when I’m lucky means the litter box).

The practice shows me how to be a human being and how to live life well. It teaches me how to not loathe Mondays; how not to live the whole of my week just looking forward to the weekends; how not to hinge my happiness on my next vacation or my next big accomplishment; how not to live in constant need of validation, praise, and acceptance from others. The practice gives me permission, over and over again, to step into and be just who I am, no strings attached.

If we don’t take it upon ourselves to learn how to be a human being amid both the complexities and ordinariness of daily life, we are bound to keep looking/searching/grasping/pleading for the next quick fix to elevate our gaze from the depravity we’ve created, only to discover that the quick fix merely serves to grow more pain.

To be clear, it’s not that there’s anything at all wrong with looking forward to such things as unearthing my motorcycle come springtime, for example. It’s a matter of learning how to be accepting and present with what’s going on in the here and now, with whatever it is that’s happening, at the same time.

_________

This morning, I watched part of a talk given by Sister Dieu Nghiem in late October at Plum Village as part of the 3-month winter retreat, where there was a focus on the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings.

Some notes I took from the Sister’s talk:

The Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings have to do with how we live our daily lives; how we live in the world; how we respond to issues and the world with our thinking, our attitude, and our view. These trainings help us to see very clearly the impact of our thinking, speaking, and actions on our environment, on the world, and on the way we live together.

The more I study these Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings the more my heart rejoices, because I see a way out. I see a way that can lead to healing and transformation – not just for myself but the whole of humanity, and that lifts my spirit and gives me a lot of joy.

The mindfulness trainings give us an ethical way of life. Every training uses an ethical action based on non-duality; that happiness is not an individual matter. (She explains that an ethical action is one that benefits everyone.)

Thay says that the practice is not just to lead us to live mindfully but also to live joyfully.

I really enjoyed the portion of the talk I listened to. The Sister explains beautifully what this path of practice is all about.

Here is the talk, if you’re interested:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e4z-jnnpLVQ&index=27&list=WL&t=1766s

 

 

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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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52-Weeks of Thank You’s

Typically, I’ve waited until either mid-year or the end of the year to share the new mindfulness practices I’ve taken up at the start of the new year, but I thought I’d share this one fresh out of the gate.

Inspired by an idea on the RandomActsOfKindness.org website, one of the new mindfulness exercises I’ve embarked upon for 2019 (as I like to enfold 2-3 new practices at the start of each year to help keep my practice fresh) is 52-Weeks of Thank You’s. I penned my third one this morning.

At first, I thought 52-Weeks of Thank You’s was synonymous with 52-Weeks of Gratitude but then as I thought more about it, I started wondering if maybe they were slightly different.

Saying: “I’m grateful for _____” is not the same as saying: “Thank you for ______.” There’s an energetic difference. One focuses on the self, as in: I am grateful for such and such, whereas the latter focuses on the other person, as in: Thank you for such and such.

As I was interested in focusing on the person I would be sending the note to, I decided to stick with calling it 52-Weeks of Thank You’s.

Prior to embarking upon this new practice, I wrote out the full list of names to send thank you’s to through the whole of 2019. Before I got into the swing of it, I had trouble coming up with who I would send thank you’s to. But once I got rolling and into the spirit of it, I wound up easily coming up with 52 names and then I ended with being disappointed that I had run out of weeks and had way more people to include. And not only did I include individual friends and family members but I also added a handful of organizations and local businesses. Another criteria I’ve set for myself is that each thank you note will be sent old school, via the U.S postal service. While sending email thank you’s would be far less time consuming and resource intensive, there’s something important that gets conveyed when someone takes the time to handwrite a card/letter/note and send it.

I made these labels to attach to each thank you note:

 

3 down – 49 to go! :)

 

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