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Cultivating Joy

Image credit: http://everybodyhasabrain.com/the-five-remembrances/

Because of the simple fact that we are of the nature to grow old, have ill heath, and die – and because everyone and everything we cherish is of the nature to change – cultivating joy is imperative, if we have the desire to live a well-contented life. The consequences of cultivating joy is a life lived with intention, connection, and heart.

When the quality of joy is nourished and strengthened in the open field of our internal landscape, the ground on which we stand becomes a fertile place for other beneficial seeds to grow alongside of it. Seeds such as: patience, ease, understanding, compassion, empathy, kindness, gratitude, humility, and equanimity. When we water the seed of joy, these nearby companion seeds also get watered.

When our seed of joy is not well tended to, we are liable to go man overboard into the ocean of suffering when we find our self in the turbulent waters of: stress, upset, anger, jealousy, sorrow, a bad day, unpleasant encounters, or unfavorable conditions of any kind.

Indications – like a low-fuel light on the dash – that your seed of joy is under-nourished:

  • On a regular basis, after engaging with the news, you feel overwhelmed, cynical, hopeless, deflated, and/or pissed off.
  • You give more street cred to suffering than to joy, discounting those who you deem to be happy and doing well as being in denial of the “real” state of affairs.
  • You feel affronted/mistreated by others in a variety of settings on a daily or regular basis.
  • You continually sit in judgement of others, for a myriad of reasons; are constantly annoyed and disappointed by others; are caught in the comparison game, always measuring yourself up against others.
  • Small things set you off on an inner or outer tirade of cynicism/frustration/impatience/anger/fight mode.
  • You see the doom & gloom of situations most readily and have a negative spin on most people & places you encounter.
  • You smile infrequently, if at all.
  • You routinely feel exhausted and burnt out; depleted; spent.

We’re all familiar with the ways in which to care well for our physical health but what about our mental health? Mental health is just as important as our physical health. And cultivating joy is the best way I have found to nourish, bolster, and fertilize my mental health. Well balanced and well nurtured physical health + well balanced and well nurtured mental health = optimal well-being.

Fruits that develop from ongoingly and continually cultivating a strong seed of joy:

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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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Fear of Ego

Sometimes, my fear of ego causes me to shirk back from what I have to offer, much to a detriment. For it’s helpful to no one when I dim my light.

To be clear: developing ego is NOT the same as shining our light. I must come to truly remember this, over and over again. Because I forget. Like, a lot.

There’s a great and powerful balance that can be cultivated. I can be confident and strong without being arrogant and overbearing. These are real elements that can coexist swimmingly together.

Still, my fear of ego often settles in next to me, whispering things like: If you do X, you know it’s going to make person X feel inferior and threatened and If you show up like this ______, you know someone is going to have something to say about it, and it won’t be pleasant.

The thing is: I’m tired of having to reel myself in in an attempt to mitigate another’s discomfort with their own self. I’m tired of dimming my light, pretending as though I’m nothing special. We’re all something special, for pete’s sake; each and every one of us. To deny this – to cover it up – is doing no one any good.

 

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On Being Happily Married

 

As a self-declared happily married woman in a monogamous relationship, I feel as though I’m rather akin to a unicorn sometimes: fictitious, and overly dramatized with glitter and sparkle (metaphorically speaking, that is) to the point of making it impossible not to deem it ridiculously absurd. I’m not at all like a unicorn, however, when it comes to my coolness factor. Unicorns are everywhere nowadays in the merch realm, whereas happily married people don’t really market well. We’re just not hip and fashionable in the same way.

But, as happy people in general are in short supply, and you can’t throw a dead cat without hitting a cynic, I awoke this morning called by my pen to write some thoughts out on a topic that feels both radical and terribly un-interesting to the mainstream at the same time. Unlike the mythical unicorn, I’m here to tell you that I exist.

And I exist not in a trite, pie-in-the-sky sort of way but in a this-is-for-real sort of way. I love my husband. I’ve loved my husband long enough that I can’t clearly recall a time when our lives were not intertwined. We’ve been together over half of my life. Born in the same year, I was 19 and he was 20 when we met; 20 and 21 when we married. And in a week from now, we’ll celebrate our 19th wedding anniversary.

I’d like to convey two things that I’ve found to be important in our love journey thus far. And by important, I mean crucial to our surthrival. (Notice I just coined a new word there: surthrival, which combines the words ‘survival’ and ‘thrive’.)

One: We’re genuinely kind to each other. And two: We’re both diligent in our own commitment to ongoing personal growth work.

#1 applies especially to me, as I used to be the queen of being passive aggressive. I spent the first few years of our marriage being routinely unkind to my husband. It took me a long while to see the reality of how I could be a real bitch. And I’ll tell you, it wasn’t easy coming to terms with this part of myself. No one wants to admit they’re a jerk. And without some kind of reflective practice to help us learn the skills to see ourselves clearly, few of us will break free of this cycle of meanness too, by the way. Collectively, we’ve learned all sorts of creative, sure-fire ways to armor ourselves up with excuses, reasonings, and justifications for our crappy behavior and treatment of others, especially our closest person. Looking deeper it becomes clear: we treat others how we treat our own selves internally. So there’s that.

What’s important to mention about #2 is that it takes two to tango. And by tango I mean form a life together. My husband and I have gone through some rough times – and our last rough time, about 8 years ago, was such that we wondered for the first time ever whether or not we’d make it. During such times, we’ve learned that there is no such thing as a difficulty being only one person’s responsibility to tend to. It’s never just one of us causing harm or hardship, no matter what’s going on. It takes both of us to co-create the environment and landscape we find ourselves amid. In order for us to take good care of one another as part of a couple in a life-partnership, we see clearly that we must learn and practice to take good care of our own self as individuals. If either one of us weren’t committed to ongoing and continual personal growth work, our marriage wouldn’t be successful. Knowing how to stay on our own side of the fence and take responsibility and ownership for how we’re showing up and engaging in the relationship is critical to our well-being as husband and wife.

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Posted by on March 2, 2019 in Growth Work

 

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On Authenticity

It’s worth starting out by saying that this post may be a little rough around the edges. You see, with my husband away on a 3-month retreat at Deer Park Monastery, I am missing my counterpart to talk through such Dharmic ponderings with. Sooo, I’m fixing on using this post as a stand-in :)

This morning, as part of a practice I call Mindful Morning Saturdays, I watched a portion of a Dharma talk by Sister Lang Nghiem, given recently at Plum Village centered around the 8th, 9th, and 10th Mindfulness Trainings. In it, she spoke about authenticity. She said: according to the Buddha, every moment, we are already our true self.

“Every moment, we are manifesting the totality of our self; the totality of our seeds; the sum of our habit energies. So there is no authentic self you need to be true to. Every moment, you are already your true self. This is a very important teaching to understand.” – Sister Lang Nghiem

My first reaction that popped up in the wake of her talking about how there isn’t really such a thing as authenticity, was: Oh, I super don’t agree with that. And as I talk regularly to myself, I even said it aloud. Of course there’s a difference between someone who is being authentic and someone who isn’t, I thought. You can always tell when someone is being real with you and when they’re not.

As she continued, I understood a little more about the teaching she was offering and it made a bit more sense. However, I was left wondering if perhaps there are two ways of addressing such a dynamic question as to whether authenticity exists: from the ultimate dimension perspective and from the historical dimension perspective.

Here’s what I’m thinking. From the lens of the ultimate dimension: yes, we are always manifesting who we are; we are authentic to who we are based on the fact that we are alive and a collection of causes, conditions, our ancestors, and our experiences. From the lens of the historical dimension: there are clearly more authentic people operating around us than others; those who have the ability to integrate their internal landscape with their external actions and speech and have them in alignment with each other.

In my google search for “authenticity images” I came across this:

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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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Working With Discomfort

We are in a continual state of meticulously manicuring our comfort zone – and it’s disabling us from being able to grow and flourish.

We want to sit in just the right chair, walk in just the right shoes, eat just the right food, do only what we feel like doing, reach out to our friends and family only when it’s convenient for us to do so, set the thermostat for just the right temperature, and on and on. Living in a perpetual state of micromanaging our surrounding environment to meet our preferences of comfort, stunts our ability to grow and it disables our capacity to cultivate important life skills to the extent that one something big does happen (and it will), we have a near zero ability to handle it well because we’ve not trained ourselves in handling the small things well.

How can we possibly expect that we will be able to handle the loss of a close loved one, the news of a mass-shooting, or be confronted with great matters of trauma or injustice in a way that allows us to experience the gravity of such things without falling apart and breaking down emotionally, if we can’t even stand to have cold feet for 2 minutes or sit in a hard-backed chair for the duration of a meal?

We are shielding ourselves from the small discomforts of life to such a degree that we have no idea how to engage skillfully with ourselves – let alone others. By constantly shielding ourselves, we are dismantling our ability to weather an ever-increasing array of: situations, people, experiences, feelings, world landscapes, and current realities. We are plugging our ears like a 4-year-old and la-la-laing our way into the isolated, separating darkness of fantasy land, where our delusions reign supreme and we are the only one that matters, which is to the great detriment and deterioration of our true self-worth and serves to erode our ability to be a helpful and kind influence on those around us and the world at large.

We need to start small in order to work big. We also need to make an active choice to consciously do this comfort zone expansion work, vs. merely stumbling upon these moments or encountering them based on some kind of happenstance. While moments of discomfort abound, growth based on stepping outside of our comfort zone only takes place when we are an active participant. If we don’t develop an intentional practice around expanding our comfort zone, we won’t reap the benefits of doing so. It won’t just happen on its own accord.

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