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Tag Archives: impermanence

This is it!?!

On Saturday morning, I watched the first 15-minutes of a talk by Sr. Thệ Nghiêm at Deer Park Monastery, given on September 15, 2017 (see Youtube link below). She spoke about something I’ve both experienced personally and spoken about in a talk I gave 3-4 years ago. At Deer Park Monastery, in southern California, behind the alter of orchids in the big meditation hall, sits a circular wooden sign that says: This is it. When I first encountered this calligraphy of Thay’s, I misunderstood its teaching and took it as a glib proclamation, as in: This is it, I guess. Whatever. Sigh.

As you likely imagine, this is not what it means. Back in the day, I knew I wasn’t viewing it as intended, I simply hadn’t developed my own insight about it’s intent just yet. Understanding unfolds over time, with practice in cultivating diligence and deep looking. Words/teachings can only take us so far. They can show us a new path to venture down, but we have to be the ones to move our feet and actualize the fruits of what it has to offer.

This is it is an invitation to look more deeply into every facet and fissure of our lives, really. To see life as ever-flowing, ever-changing, and ever-amazing. To understand the depths of This is it, means to see clearly that this moment – whatever moment we find ourselves amid – IS it, truly. This present moment is the foundation for the next present moment, and it’s up to us to sculpt it in the best way possible. To turn our lives into a living art form.

One of the main root teachings I receive nourishment of, by staying apprised of both local and world news, is in regards to the nature of life and death. In short: there are a lot of ways to live and there are a lot of ways to die. The more I learn and deepen my understanding of this truth – this nature of reality – the more it opens me to the preciousness of life, and the myriad of possibilities that exist.

This is it! is more than a teaching. It’s a way of living.

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Solitude & Community

Waking up, I smile to all of the causes and conditions that make life possible and full of richness.

I recently determined, after years of sporadic pondering, that 3:00am still constitutes as night, whereas 4:00am can be considered morning. Given that I went to bed last night around 8:00pm, I gave myself permission to get up at 3:44am this morning. Lately, though, as I’ve been waking up earlier than usual, I’ve been telling myself that I have to wait until at least 4:00am, when it’s morning, to get up. I mean, there is such a thing as waking up too early.

Recently, I’ve been filled with a sort of electric, buzzing, fertile energy. I think it has to do with my mind and body’s muscle memory kicking in, as I prepare to head back to Deer Park Monastery (DP) soon. I’ve been waking up earlier than usual, spending certain evenings staying up later than usual, and I’m filled to the brim and spilling over with flowing creative juices.

My husband and I will be going to DP on retreat for 3 weeks in early January. We’ve been going to DP every January, for what will be my 5th year and my husband’s 4th. It’s been a lovely annual pilgrimage. A replenishing source of both powers of fluidity and solidity – and of both elements of solitude and community.

Most of us – maybe even all of us – need a balance of solitude and community. Time to reconnect and recharge on our own accord – to dance it out in our living room or read a book uninterrupted or hike it out in the woods, or whatever your chosen “out” is – and time to be nourished by others, supported in the company of people that replenish and inspire us.

And, of course, we each have our own balance to find. I’m realizing that my particular balance is struck on the daily, as of late. I enjoy my solitude in the wee hours of the darkened, melodic spell of morning: writing, reading, sipping tea, and sometimes dancing, which sets the stage for a day of connecting with others, in a variety of ways. When I stay in close contact with myself, I am able to ascertain which type of nourishment I am in need of: that which comes from time spent flying solo or that which comes from cultivating connection and friendship, watering the seeds of love. Both are necessary and vital in the art of thriving as a human ecosystem. We need to know how to care well for ourselves – to know how to fill and strengthen our own reservoirs of joy and ease – so that we may know how, and be able to, care well for others, as part of the planetary organism breathing and pulsating all around us. We need to learn how to commune with ourselves, in order to commune with others. We tend to our own internal garden, so that we may be of service and benefit to others.

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Posted by on December 17, 2017 in Everyday Practice

 

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Wild Abandon

Just this morning, I hopped onto the BBC world news online, where I clicked on an article about the current fire and state of emergency in San Diego, CA. Accompanying the article was a short video taken by a motorist who had captured footage of a man on the roadside next to a raging bank of flames, who was trying desperately to save a wild rabbit who was clearly in distress. After running into the flames, the rabbit came back out and the man was able to scoop it up and rescue it.

Tears streamed from my eyes.

The sheer fortitude and concern this man showed for that one tiny rabbit is a powerful example of our capacity to love.

We are made and built from each other’s company – whether in people, animal, or nature’s form. We rise and fall together.

May we stop running and keep loving. May we open our hearts wide like the sky at dawn.

The more we love people, the better we live. The better we live, the more we love.

So, let us love on – even when it’s hard. Even when we don’t want to. Even when we don’t know how.

It’s easy to extend love to those whom we choose to share our lives with – but it’s not so easy with those whom we do not see a commonality with. Our time is short. We have such little time to love with wild abandon. Stop guarding your heart.

Let us express gratitude to all those who circulate around us, whether dear to us or nameless. Let us radiate love to all who are situated in the wake of our heart’s beating. Our time is short. May we love with wild, unfettered abandon, regardless of the company we keep.

 

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Life & Death

Every year, for the past I don’t know how many years (8? 10? 12?), I help with the set-up for the Tree of Life Ceremony, which is put on in early December by the hospice organization I volunteer for on a weekly basis, meeting with patients. This annual event is a time to remember our loved ones who’ve passed away, whether recently or many years ago. There’s a tree lighting ceremony that takes place in Rose Memorial Park, followed by a non-faith based service at St. Paul Lutheran Church, situated a few blocks away, and is concluded with a reception in their fellowship hall. The reception is stocked with typically over 100 dozen cookies that the staff & volunteers bake, warm beverages, and is a chance to peruse the banners (see pic above) we put together, which display the many names that community members have submitted in memory of those who’ve passed away. This year, we had over 900 names.

Yesterday, while helping with the set-up process for this event, I worked alongside a hospice staff member who shared with me the story of how she just moved to town not long ago at the request of her daughter, who was wanting her help in trying to get back to school, while raising young children and still recovering from a car accident that left her with brain trauma just under a year ago. Her daughter was stopped at a light here in town and hit by a texting driver, going 50- mph.

Switching…

While arranging the names on the banners, I unexpectedly came across my grandmother’s name: Claire Carlson. My grandmother, still alive, is on hospice care in Arkansas. I spoke with her just the other day and was the last grandchild to do so. She’s expected to pass away in the next few days.

When I think of her, I think of watercolor paintings of flowers and landscapes on crisp white paper, framed by my grandfather, when he was alive. I think of the tomatoes she was forever growing in pots and how I used to steal candies from her nightstand – though, I suspect she knew full well and didn’t mind.

When I think of her, I think of summers spent at boardwalk art shows, a mixture of sun and sea coating my skin and tangling my long hair. When I think of her, I think of my grandfather, even though he’s been gone for over 15 years.

And I reckon she passed down her artistic flare to me, though my mediums are the written word and music. Still, it takes an artist to decode this one, richly given life in such a way where melodies can be heard and beauty can be seen in even the smallest drops of everyday. With an artist’s eye, I look out onto the world, misshapen with strife though it may be. I gaze in its direction as though it were a sunset or rise, a marvel of ingenuity on display.

When I think of her, I think of how fortunate I am, truly, to be here, now.

Switching…

Sitting in a pew last night at the church, listening as the hospice chaplain and one of the bereavement coordinators shared skilled words of nourishment and support, I thought of the many friends I’ve had who’ve passed away, especially over the last couple of years. I thought of those who will pass away soon, such as both of my grandmothers. And I also thought of everyone I take for granted, thinking they will live another 30 or 40 years – all those I figure I will have an endless amount of time to absorb into my heart.

One thing I most appreciate about being a hospice volunteer is that in meeting with patients who are dying, it opens my eyes and my heart to those who are living around me, firm in the understanding that we can all go at any time. Befriending death allows me to befriend life.

Switching…

Written in August, 2016:

I’d been visiting Al every Tuesday at 10:00am for over a year, before he passed away, 3 days ago. He was 91 years old, though he often liked to tell me he was 100. I never disagreed, as it seemed to bring him a wave of pride and pleasure to share with me the fact that he had reached triple digits. Besides, I figured, whether 91, 94, 97, or 100, they’re all milestones in my book, each one indicating having lived a long life.

Back in April, during one of our weekly visits, I decided it would be a good idea to jot down some of the things he said. I sat next to him with some paper and a pen and told him my intention. He found it humorous, and mildly baffling, that I wanted to record his Words of Wisdom, as I called it. He didn’t feel what he had to say was of any special value or worth remembering. But he obliged me just the same.

Here’s what I scribbled down that one day:

Your mental attitude is hooked to well being.
You don’t realize how you can mold your life.You are the one commander of your own mind and body.Don’t let it get away from you.
I still think of myself as a young man. Hell, you have to.
A smile will get you more friends than a grimace. You’ve got to smile at society.
Nothing in my life has been dead serious. Nothing can’t be changed.
Gray hair ain’t heavier to carry around – and they take less water.
When you get up in the morning, get a smile on your face.
He called this one Al’s Secret to Longevity: If you have a choice between making a friend or an enemy, always make a friend. I always figured it was better to make a friend.
Walk away from cranky people, they’ll affect you.
Carrying a grudge gets to be pretty solid after awhile.
Boy, it’s nice to be alive today.

In memory of Al, 1925-2016

 

 

 

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Strange Hope

This morning, on my way to turn on a small light to illuminate the darkness of 4:00am, my right foot rolled over something unfamiliar in the living room. It was a dead mouse – an offering no doubt thought worthy of praise, brought in through the cat door some time over the course of the night.

Later, at 4:47am, through a window I had cracked open to invite the cool air of pre-dawn in, an un-welcomed sound pierced the lovely quietude. A neighbor was outside somewhere close by, rehearsing their smoker’s cough in violent fits and starts.

And isn’t this the way of things? The unexpected, unpleasant stuff keeps happening. Yet, we hold out some kind of strange hope that it won’t. That maybe one day, when we’ve figured out the right alga-rhythm or when the stars align just so, the unexpected and unpleasant stuff will just stop happening. But it’s the darnedest thing: despite our strange hope, that stuff keeps happening.

Perhaps, then, it would serve us well to lay that strange hope down – to place it with care in an ornate box, close the lid, say a fond farewell, and then grab a shovel and bury the freakin’ thing in the woods.

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Each time we cringe, ruffle, shutter, or wince is a calling and an invitation. A calling to return back home to ourselves in the here and now and an invitation to do the work it takes to cultivate a less friction-filled way of living and being.

A happy life is possible. But, it’s only possible when we create it for ourselves in the present moment and tend to its ongoing development.

As long as we’re in a state of waiting, as long as our happiness hinges on something or someone, our quality of life will remain in disagreeable flux, punctuated with bouts of great turmoil, upheaval, woe, struggle, stress, and hardship.

“Constantly apply cheerfulness, if for no other reason than because you are on this spiritual path. Have a sense of gratitude to everything, even difficult emotions, because of their potential to wake you up.”

– Pema Chodron, from Always Maintain a Joyful Mind

A joyful mind, like the almost full moon that sits aglow in the sky just outside, is always present, even when clouds of uncertainty, agitation or sorrow roll in. If well tended to, a joyful mind is indestructible and inexhaustible.

 

 

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Discomfort

What do you do to make sense of the world in moments when you wish it were different? How do you run and where do you go? Have you found tools for working well with fluctuations of every conceivable flavor of situation and spirit or are you bound to the same detrimental deviations perpetuating a lifetime of remorse, beholden to the swift allure of misery?

It might be drugs or alcohol we turn to for solace, it might be video games or TV or sex, or maybe it’s food we lose ourselves in – it could be overworking or overexercising or overmaintaining our small bubble of comfort or over anythinging that helps to dull whatever pain is present if we were to press pause in the moment.

There are a myriad of ways to run from the same pains that affect us all – and while some cause less harm than others, they all have the potential to unravel us one thread at a time.

We would do well to practice how to sit, settle, and be with the nature that surrounds us like the air we breathe: the nature of discomfort. And we need tools and skillful practices and things we can do to move through what would otherwise be an unsettling, disjointed, unexpected sliver of unfolding time, the likes of which leave a bitter, bile taste on our pallet.

As a woman I know who was me once said: There is nothing more potent than befriending that in which our inclination is to apprehend as suspect, to our own discomfort.

We need to get our friendship on with ourselves and everything which offers itself around us to the point of where regardless of what’s happening we can meet it as an opportunity to embrace verses an obstacle to run away from.

And the more we embrace the less we evade – the more we embrace the more space we create to allow the results that come having less baggage pitching and heaving in our wake to take place. A joyful life is possible – absorb this truth into your bones.

 

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Can Men & Women Be Friends?

At first glance, this post title may seem a bit off-topic in the realm of mindfulness, but upon closer examination of the word ‘mindfulness’, we may come to realize that really anything can be included under this umbrella word when we apply the application of direct and engaged attention, spurred by a desire to come into a deeper relationship of understanding.

This topic has been coming up for me lately. Can heterosexual men and women be friends? Part of me says yes and part of me says no. I think it depends largely on the circumstances involved. Social friendships, where interactions occur mostly in group settings, are different than close one-on-one friendships, where you’re spending more concentrated time together. I think social friendships are much more plausible than one-on-one friendships, in terms of the likelihood of having romantic feelings develop on either or both sides of the fence.

I was interested in boys at an early age. I had my first boyfriend in third grade and stayed in a steady stream of romantic relationships up until I met my husband, at age 19. Growing up, I had mostly guy friends. And I falsely told myself that it was because I just related better with guys. When I encountered SLAA (sex and love addicts anonymous) at age 19, I realized I had developed a lot of patterns of behavior that were detrimental and destructive. I came to understand that a big reason as to why I surrounded myself with guy friends was because I got a certain amount of attention that I really enjoyed, craved, and used to assert my self-worth and feel good about myself. A hard truth to come to terms with, at that time, was realizing that while I may have had no intention of being physically involved with my guy friends, I got a certain high from knowing that it was an option.

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Posted by on October 28, 2017 in Everyday Practice

 

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