When This is All Over

I was at the gas station the other day standing at the pump, waiting for my tank to fill. A staff person was at an adjacent pump cleaning the handles and with an upbeat and friendly tone said Good morning! when he saw me. Then another vehicle pulled up to a pump closer to where he was working and he took to exchanging pleasantries and small talk with the driver. I overheard the driver ask him the stock standard how are you question, to which the worker replied: I’ll be happy when this is all over. I thought to myself: That’s it, isn’t it? That’s the crux of this coronavirus tune so many are singing – and it’s not at all different than our usual tune, the one where we think: after this happens, after I get this thing, after I land this job or this person or this whatever it is, THEN I’ll be happy.

We all do the dance of later I’ll be happy or later I’ll practice meditation, after things have settled down or later on I’ll get some rest when I have more time. I’ve been re-reading the classic Zen Mind Beginner’s Mind by Suzuki Roshi and also certain sections from two of my favorite books by Thay recently, which I’ve been referring back to quite a bit lately and receiving nourishment and strength from:

Peace can exist only in the present moment. It is ridiculous to say, “Wait until I finish this, then I will be free to live in peace.” What is “this”? A diploma, a job, a house, the payment of a debt? If you think that way, peace will never come. There is always another “this” that will follow the present one. If you are not living in peace at this moment, you will never be able to. If you truly want to be at peace, you must be at peace right now. Otherwise, there is only “the hope of peace someday.”

– from The Sun My Heart by Thich Nhat Hanh

 

To cook, or to fix some food, is not preparation, according to Dogen; it is practice. To cook is not just to prepare food for someone or for yourself; it is to express your sincerity. So when you cook you should express yourself in your activity in the kitchen. You should allow yourself plenty of time; you should work on it with nothing in your mind, and without expecting anything. You should just cook! That is also an expression of our sincerity, a part of our practice.

It is necessary to sit in zazen, in this way, but sitting is not our only way. Whatever you do, it should an expression of the same deep activity. We should appreciate what we are doing. There is no preparation for something else.

– from Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind by Shunryu Suzuki

 

Someone asked me, “Aren’t you worried about the state of the world?” I allowed myself to breathe and then I said, “What is most important is not to allow your anxiety about what happens in the world to fill your heart. If you heart is filled with anxiety, you will get sick, and you will not be able to help.” There are wars – big and small – in many places, and that can cause us to lose our peace. Anxiety is the illness of our age. We worry about ourselves, our family, our friends, our work, and the state of the world. If we allow worry to fill our hearts, sooner or later we will get sick.

Yes there is tremendous suffering all over the world, but knowing this need not paralyze us. If we practice mindful breathing, mindful walking, mindful sitting, and working in mindfulness, we try our best to help, and we can have peace in our heart. Worrying does not accomplish anything…if we don’t know how to breathe, smile, and live every moment of our life deeply, we will never be able to help anyone.

– from The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching by Thich Nhat Hanh

 

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Simple Things

I want excitement
to be born from
simple things.

Like being presented
with another day
to live and breathe
and sing.

Or knowing how very fortunate
I am
to have all the
luxuries of life:
running water
ready access to food
electricity
shelter
and countless modern conveniences.

I want excitement
to not be hinged on
having to go someplace
or do something
or be someone
in particular.

I want excitement
to bubble up
from the deep cauldron
of my heart,
for the wondrous miracle to
be
here
now.

This is my aspiration;
my practice;
my winding path
through the thicket of collective hardships
and planetary throng of woes.

– penned today, July 10th, 2019, around 6am

Rituals

Immensely inspired by a video interview I watched this morning, as part of a free Wellness Summit happening online right now, entitled: How to Set Yourself Free From Pain & Misery, with Dr. Sean Stephenson, I was called to craft this post focused on my own personal daily rituals.

In Dr. Stephenson’s interview, he said: I have 16 rituals and if I don’t do at least 4 of them every day, my insecurities will eat me alive.

He said a lot more that’s worth mentioning – I took over 5 pages of notes during the 60-minute video! – but there is much greater value for you, my friends, in watching it yourself (click on link above). It is one of the very best mindfulness-based talks I have ever seen.

So rather than using this post to relay all of my notes, I will instead focus on sharing my daily rituals, which isn’t new for me to do here on my blog but has perhaps been a little while since last I did.

 

Nicole’s DAILY Rituals (for Self-Care and Cultivating Ease, Joy, and Solidity)

Waking up early enough to enjoy a period of time connecting with myself, amid the graces of quietude and slowness

Writing (if even only a little bit)

Sitting meditation

Gratitude practice (which I created myself and involves certain verses I say each morning, along with prostrations to the earth)

Saying a connection/gratitude verse before I eat each meal

Watering my seed of joy, with intentional skillful effort

Guarding well my sensory input (TV/films, music, books, magazines, conversations, social media, news…)

Resting (which for me typically comes in the form of taking a nap every day; even on the days I work, as soon as I get home around 4:00, the first thing I do is lay down to take a short nap before preparing dinner)

Maintain consistency with when I eat each meal: breakfast, lunch, and dinner

Wake up at the same time every day (5:00am) and go to bed around the same time each night (between 9-10pm)

 

Nicole’s WEEKLY Rituals (for Self-Care and Cultivating Ease, Joy, and Solidity)

Attend sangha every Monday night

Participate in my self-crafted Mindful Morning Saturday practice

Watch a Dharma talk and/or mindfulness-based teaching video online

Spend time dancing and exercising

Devoting one morning (usually Sundays) to Lazy Morning practice

 

Nicole’s YEARLY Rituals (for Self-Care and Cultivating Ease, Joy, and Solidity)

Attend our two locally held and organized mindfulness retreats with my extended Montana sangha family

Prioritize solo sojourns

Spend extended, concentrated time on personal retreat (or amid other practice-related spells of personal quietude)

Attend local days of mindfulness and special practice events hosted by our sister sanghas as much as possible

 

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Lessons in Non-duality

For those of you who haven’t read my most recent posts, you may be surprised to know that the picture above (taken yesterday) is of a person (me) who has been home sick for the past 7 days. I haven’t eaten a full meal and have only left the house to fetch the mail since last Friday. I have no appetite and am mostly bed bound, as sitting upright is taxing and uncomfortable after only a short period of time. I even did a short stint in the ER on Saturday, due to having a fever, weakness to the point of not being able to walk on my own, and belly pain.

Why am I telling you this? Well, I think this is a pretty good real-life example of what the heck the teachings of non-duality are all about.

It’s easy to look at this pic of me and think I look totally healthy and without cause for hardship. It’s easy to look at this pic and be totally surprised to find out that I’m barely able to get out of bed. We all get caught in dualistic thinking on the daily. Meaning, we don’t think two things can operate at the same time. Things either have to be this way OR that way. That’s what dualistic thinking is all about.

Non-dualistic thinking, on the other hand, involves being able to hold two seemingly opposing realities at the same time, allowing them to co-exist together as two parts of the same reality.

In this case, being able to accept and rest in a state of non-duality equates to seeing that both of these things are true: I am sick and not feeling physically well AND I’m able to smile brightly and keep a positive outlook and attitude. I am both sick and happy at the same time!

The more able we are to sit with ease in relation to life’s many paradoxes, the more content we will be as a result. The more we fight against them or attempt to figure them out intellectually, the more we will suffer.

It’s like two of my very favorite teachings say:

 

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Love (More)

Note to self:

When people are in a frantic, manic, stressed out or washed out state, they are not in a place which affords them the ability to listen and absorb well-intentioned feedback.

No matter how good the suggestions are in attempts to alleviate their turmoil – even if they’re actively asking for input – it is not the time for solution based, problem solving tactics.

Amid such experiences of hardship or heightened states of dismay, the order at hand is to express unconditional, unwavering, unbounded acceptance, understanding, and love.

50 Things That Make Me Happy

This pic combines three of the things from my list: #2, #5, and #29 :)

 

Inspired by a blog post from: https://mywellbeingandlearningjourney.wordpress.com/, I thought I’d try my hand at following her lead:

50 Things That Make Me Happy

  1. Trees
  2. Writing
  3. Spending time with friends
  4. Taking photos
  5. The hours of early morning
  6. Community building
  7. Hosting potlucks at my house
  8. Animal friends
  9. Paddleboarding
  10. Motorcycling
  11. My husband
  12. My stepson
  13. Taking road trips
  14. Camping
  15. Pumping up my old Coleman camp stove
  16. Going on solo ventures
  17. Meditation
  18. Going on mindfulness retreats
  19. Deer Park Monastery
  20. Montana
  21. Missoula
  22. Hearing about a loved one’s good news
  23. Music
  24. Dancing
  25. Singing
  26. Flowers
  27. Children
  28. Being silly
  29. The soft glow of Christmas lights
  30. Buying little presents or cards for friends
  31. Engaging in random acts of kindness
  32. My dayplanner
  33. Organizing stuff
  34. Being efficient
  35. Volunteering with hospice and meeting with patients
  36. Planning events that help bring people together in an atmosphere of heartfulness
  37. Crows & ravens
  38. Recalling memories of spending time at the Jersey Shore when I was growing up
  39. Sitting with my sangha Be Here Now every Monday night
  40. Camp fires
  41. Napping
  42. Good tea
  43. Swimming
  44. Soaking in primitive hot springs
  45. Hiking to the ‘M’ and overlooking the city of Missoula
  46. Spending time in hammocks
  47. Listening to the sound of meditation bells & wind chimes
  48. Seeing someone smile
  49. The experience of flight travel
  50. Properly cooked tofu :)

I could keep going…but I think I’ll keep to the prompt and stick to 50.

May this list inspire you in similar accord to how I was inspired. Let us get our happiness on together!

 

My Happy Place(s)

Lately, I’ve been reveling in the ability to thoroughly enjoy both staying at home and venturing out and about under the summer sun of Montana. In both instances, I am delighting in my own company. It’s a mark of inner contentment, I think, to feel at ease wherever we are. And I need not travel even one step to find where home is. I carry it within me. I am never without it.

____________

My Happy Place(s)

My happy place is on a motorcycle, cruising at 70 over a smooth ribbon of asphalt.
My happy place is on a SUP board, on any body of water that will have me.
My happy place is being perched in front of a blank sheet of paper, with a blue P-500 in my hand.

My HP is in the woods, surrounded by elder trees and ancient wisdom.
My HP is on my meditation cushion, cultivating ease and spaciousness.
My HP is in the kitchen, preparing food to feed my friends.
My HP is next to a campfire, with a cup of tea and a guitar.

My HP is being solo on the road, inhaling music through my pores and exhaling it through my lungs.
My HP is in the Mission Lookout Tower, intimately rekindling my love affair with the sun and moon.
My HP is behind a set of drums, allowing others the chance to get their African dance on.
My HP is my humble abode, in a town I adore, close to my people.

My HP is Deer Park Monastery.
My HP is Banff National Park.
My HP is anywhere I haven’t been.

My HP is in the here and now.

My HP is doing something silly.
My HP is playing with small children.
My HP is watching fireworks.

My HP is within me.

More HP pics:

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Spaciousness

In a word, meditation allows me to build the quality of spaciousness. So, the way I see it: meditation = the practice of creating space.

Without a close kinship to, and practice of, spaciousness, our habit energies and conditioned behaviors run the show. They fuel and propel every thought we think, word we say, and action we engage in. And oftentimes, that fuel is old, gnarly and gunks up the whole system. It’s not clean burning fuel. It leaves foul, blackened smoke in its wake.

Developing, deepening, and expanding our relationship with spaciousness is elemental in our ability and capacity to live a kind, skillful, balanced, and well-contented life.

This is how I have it worked out: without spaciousness, we are led around by our reactionary tendencies, which are guided by past experiences. And sometimes that works out okay. And other times not so much.

For instance, just this morning, I think it was my level of spaciousness that afforded me the ability to not go into a frazzled meltdown, when confronted with the reality that I was not the only one who thought of arriving at the Motor Vehicle Division office prior to their opening at 8am. At 7:45am, I was somewhere in the neighborhood of being person #25, with more folks funneling in after me every minute. My number was called to the title transaction counter at 9:45am.

And it’s these sort of moments that show us where we’re at: spiritually/mentally/emotionally speaking. How is it we weather such times as standing around, waiting for our number to be called out – being in places we’d rather not be? How do we occupy our waiting time? How do we tend to our mindscape? How do we show up and interact with others, when faced with such states of inconvenience and displeasure? It’s worth personally investigating these occasions, as these moments will likely show us more about ourselves than anything else.

The quality of spaciousness allows us to respond, verses react. Responding requires conscious participation, whereas reactions are built in. In moments of discomfort or upset, it’s never the actual whatever it is that’s happening that creates the problem we’re experiencing. What unfolds is largely dependent on whether we’re engaging from a state of reacting or responding. Are we making ourselves a victim or are we claiming responsibility for our choices? This is the crux of figuring ourselves out, and growing along the path of practicing mindfulness.

Spaciousness is what allows us to see things as they really are – to see ourselves and others as they really are. It opens up the doorway to freedom and liberation from suffering. Spaciousness is what makes ease, joy, and healing possible. Without spaciousness, little, if anything, can change.

While it may not seem like we’re doing much by sitting daily in meditation, whether for 5, 10, 15, 20, or 30 minutes, in reality it’s the most beneficial use of our precious time. Keep sitting, dear friends. Our health and well-being depends on it.

 

 

 

 

A Happy Person’s Response to an Un-Ideal Situation

 

Today’s post on my writer’s facebook page:

This is me willing my voice to be strong and dynamic come showtime. This is me doing a metaphorical shout-out to whatever mythological god is in charge of creative surges and vocal wellness, in hopes that they will anoint me with the magical powers bestowed upon them.

This is me flirting with the incredibly disturbing possibility that I will not be in top form when the time comes.

This is me coming to terms with the simple and sticky truth that despite my actions or power of will – despite how much I’ve prepared, invested in, and advertised – the reality of laryngitis could swoop in and change everything. And there wouldn’t be a thing I could do to stop it.

_______

 

Today’s post on my personal facebook page:

For those of you who don’t know, I experience frequent and chronic bouts of laryngitis throughout the year. Welp. My ol’ friend has come calling again – and just in time for my big show coming up!

I’m relatively confident I will regain vocal function by Friday but I’m pulling out all the stops this weekend, including heeding the advice from my good friend Ashly: a day of vocal rest. Here’s the sign I fashioned to show Jaden & Mike when they woke up this morning (see pic above)

 

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An email I sent tonight @ 6:19pm to my team of three friends who have wonderfully agreed to help me on the evening of my upcoming gig:

Hi team :)

Sooo, as you may know (from social media or me texting you), my ol friend laryngitis has seen fit to visit me. Hooray! Just in time for my upcoming show! :)

I read online that cortisone steroids can help so I went to the doc and got those and started taking them today. Since I still have a few days to rest up, I feel fairly confident that I’ll be up in vocal functioning by Friday but it’s really hard to know for sure. In the past, my L bouts last typically 4-7 days, but sometimes it takes over a week for me to regain proper function.

As a precaution I’d super appreciate hearing any input/feedback/ideas you might have for a plan B, in the event I’m unable to perform on Friday. Do I postpone until a later undisclosed date? Do I simply cancel altogether? Do I still hold the show but figure out something else to do? Hmm.

Thank goodness for the practice of mindfulness and being able to stay well grounded in the present moment even amid life’s unexpected twists and turns – while this is certainly not ideal and I’m REALLY hoping I can perform come Friday, I’m aware too that life is impermanent; sometimes there’s only so much we can do to affect the sway of things. The worse case scenario is canceling and that’s really not the end of the world :)

Bright & Shiny

Over the past few months, I’ve been experiencing a re-surfacing of an old habit energy. The sort of pattern of behavior that we all have – stemming from long ago – that we thought was relegated to the past. The kind we think we had transformed and grown out of. Yeah, it’s like that.

Something I’ve come to understand is that transformation of unskillful behaviors and thought patterns is an ongoing journey. So, just because something is re-surfacing now doesn’t mean the work I’ve done in the past becomes null and void. It doesn’t mean I’ve done something wrong or even that anything needs fixing. This re-surfacing simply speaks to the nature of impermanence and how everything is always changing and shifting. Deeply rooted habit energies can go dormant for long stretches of time and then re-appear, indicating that the journey continues. It’s nothing to fret or worry about. These truths comfort me during times such as this.

What interests me about this old habit energy arising is that while some part of me know it’s groundless, another part is lured in by it. Groundless in the sense that it’s based on fictitious notions and fleeting desires – full of holes, hollow. And still…

A source of suffering is to be forever tempted and swayed by something bright and shiny and new. Something outside of our grasp and ownership, whether it’s an object, an adventure, or another lover. What is it that beckons us? The prospect of a happiness we have yet to find but hope is out there? A temporary filling up of a hole we’ve been aching to not trip and fall into? What are we looking for?! What am I looking for? Am I looking for something? Is something operating subconsciously that I’m not tuned into? Or could it be that this old habit energy simply needs more tending to, more caring for, more befriending?

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