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Tag Archives: impermanence

Ode To My Husband

Mike giving love to the cat before taking off for the airport

Written at 5:37am, Friday January 25th, 2019:

Given the expedient fashion with which we managed to both get to and through the airport – checking bags and all – I’m already back at home.

We even lingered in the airport gift shop for a spell, wrinkling our noses at the horrid smell of perfumed, decorative soaps and delighting in the array of stuffed animals, in order to further delay parting ways at the security line.

It was me who made the call. “Okay,” I said, “it’s probably time.”

After a proper embrace, we headed in opposite directions. As I headed out, I glanced back 2-3 times and met his gaze doing the same each time.

And that was that.

I was outside, surrounded by the dark chill of early morning in Missoula – and he was inside, surrounded by bright artificial lighting, soon to take off sky high and land in short order in southern California, where I hope he will be cradled well for the next 3-months.

_______

Over the past week, multiple times a day, I took inventory of the things I would miss about him while he was gone and also the things I would look forward to having a break from. But in the last day or two, the line between these categories grew increasingly blurry and I came to see that I would miss all of it. Even the stuff I really don’t like, such as cleaning up wads of chewing tobacco on the windowsill that serves as his nightstand.

I take solace in the truth of our situation, of the little thing that has happened in our being together for almost 20-years: because we resound in the graces of our interbeing nature, we are strong and strengthened both when we’re together and when we’re apart.

_______

I reckon from here on out, until he returns in 3-months, the ol homestead will be in the same state of affairs when I come home each day as to when I left.

It was only 8-months ago I was preparing dinner each night for 3-4 people. In June, our household reduced to a steady 3. In November, we were whittled down to 2. And now, starting today, I am paired down to 1.

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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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I WAS Built for Routine

I just came across this meme on Twitter. Gosh, I just love following Tiny Buddha.

With this quote, however, I was left thinking: Yes! I totally agree…except for the first part about not being built for routine.

Routine works super well for me. I am an extremely regimented person and find great comfort, support, and nourishment in upholding my daily habits, schedule, and regular constitutions.

Last weekend, I was watching a Dharma talk on Youtube given by Sister Tu Nghiem in the Plum Village tradition. She said:

“The lifestyle that Thay created for us at Plum Village involves balancing four aspects of our daily life: mindfulness practices, study, service to the community, and play – and I’ve added relaxation, and maybe that’s a way of playing also.”

She said that following a schedule gives them solidity and that by living with this balance they have more inner peace and freedom from stress and worry. She then referenced a Brother’s recent metaphor of how their schedule is like the spinal column – it’s the backbone providing stability and yet it is also flexible. Changes happen. And yet when changes happen, everything is held together.

I resonate very much with what she shared. Personally, I’ve experienced a number of people who seem terribly resistant to developing routines and schedules. It tends to be that these people also have trouble committing to making plans and confirming their attendance at events and gatherings. Often, they also have a habit of being chronically late to things that have a set start time. I think there are a few factors at play here. One being that they’ve deemed it uncool and/or lame to set up and maintain a schedule – and partly this is due to a perpetual immaturity that pervades our western societal landscape.

This isn’t to say everyone is built for routines and schedules and should get on board with such things. Different things work for different people and this is super important to keep in mind. There’s no one mold that works for all of us – and thank goodness for that!

I think what makes the above meme a little bit troublesome is that it implies there isn’t a way to have both realities happen simultaneously: one that involves routine AND one that involves skinny dipping and sleeping under the stars and 2am conversations that shatter your walls.

This meme is also a little judgy. There’s a subtle biting undertone to it. One can have a routine and also not be into trite conversations or working in an office. One can work in an office and sleep under the stars. And there’s nothing wrong with being content whilst working in a building. There’s all sorts of mix and match ways we can be content in this one splendid life we’ve been given. There’s no one rule book to follow that results in a happy life.

And if we’re not into fake smiles and surface small talk, that’s cool. If it’s something we’re bothered by and find to be a standard mode of operation then we have the opportunity (and responsibility) to affect change and do something about it.

I think this meme, while well intended, misses the mark and potentially waters the seed of cynicism in an already quite cynical counter culture. Because the thing is, stuffy buildings and fake smiles and routines are real. They are part of life. And ultimately, there’s nothing inherently wrong with any of those things.

With our thoughts we make the world, and these we have the power to change at any time. It’s not what’s happening around us that causes our dissatisfaction, it’s how we regard it and relate to it.

 
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Posted by on January 16, 2019 in Everyday Practice

 

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Passing Away

My grandmother Mary, who passed away on October 27th, 2018

 

Yesterday, my paternal grandmother passed away. After a long life spent singing in the church choir, attending mass, and being the hub for tending to her 8 children and 12 grandchildren, she went the way all of us inevitably will, sifting from form to memory.

She was my last surviving grandparent.

Last night, I lit a fire out back in her honor. And it just so happened that a bundle of my maternal grandmother’s ashes sat beside me. They followed me home from a recent trip I took to see my mom. I never said a proper good-bye to her, when she passed away last December – not in a way that acknowledged that the breath of a life had been transferred back to its source. Her ashes then became symbolic of both of my grandmothers departures.

They became that of Mike’s grandmothers, too.

We added a small handful to the fire, and watched as the ashes both settled into the crackling embers and rose up amid the smoke, which caused the drying elm leaves above to rattle and dance.

We then set out in the darkness of 8pm in the autumnal mountains, to scatter the rest of the ashes. We set some adrift on the Bitterroot River and laid the remainder to rest in a grassy field surrounded by ponderosas.

Aho grandmothers.

A blessing to you all.

You gave us life.

You carried us on the same backs of all those who came before us.

We as your grandchildren are your continuation.

Now, we carry you forward,

on the same backs of all those who still remain,

and will soon follow in our footsteps.

My grandmother & grandfather’s continuation of grandchildren

 

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Five Remembrances

This morning, during my sitting meditation session, I devoted my practice to connecting with the Five Remembrances. The original Five Remembrances come from a Buddhist sutra, for which the English translation is entitled: Subjects for Contemplation. The above translation, of which I’m most familiar with, is from my root teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh.

According to Wikipedia, which I think is well said: According to this discourse, contemplation of these facts leads to the abandonment of destructive attachments and actions and to the cultivation of factors necessary for awakening.

If feelings of sorrow, overwhelm, upset, or aversion arise upon reading the Five Remembrances, it indicates that only a surface level view is being encountered. If we think these are a downer, we have not yet penetrated them deeply enough to benefit from the levels of insight from which they manifest.

As a collective assembly of people, we are societally groomed to avoid these inherent realities as being part of our human experience. In doing so, we are limiting our ability to be – and stay – in conscious contact and communication with the preciousness of life. We take things, people, places, experiences, and life itself, for granted.

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New Plan!

If you’re an avid reader here, you may recall that one of my oft used life mottoes is: New plan! And the exclamation point is an important part of the motto, as it stipulates a certain energy that must get summoned alongside of the words, so that the spirit of the motto has the opportunity to arise. Just saying the words without evoking the spirit will sorely impact the motto’s efficacy rate.

Let’s say you’re waiting for a flight at the airport. While standing at the gate, an announcement is made that your flight has been delayed. You now have at least 2 options. You could grumble about it to your travel companion, or text someone or post your angst on social media if you’re flying solo. OR you could New plan! it. You could say New plan! and flow with the moment, determining what to do with the extra hang time you now have on your hands. New plan! is like a gear shifter, helping us to practice moving along with the moment as the landscape around us changes, verses getting stuck-tied to how something was “supposed” to be. I’ve found that it helps to say it out loud, too.

Yesterday, this motto accompanied me in especially strong accord. My original plan was to take my standup paddleboard, new camping hammock, and new/used Subaru and solo car camp overnight on the Clearwater river, about a 40-minute jaunt from town. I’d paddle around in the heat of day, swing in the hammock in between water excursions, write, drink tea, and maybe manage to write a letter to my friend Daniel. That was the plan. And I did do most of those things. I found a spot where I intended; paddled around on a lazy stretch of the Clearwater River; took a cat nap in the hammock; and even made some tea and did a bit of writing.

The place I was situated is a rare find in Montana. It’s a spot on the water that’s free and open for folks to camp just about anywhere they can nestle in. Now, there’s a ton of free camping in this lovely state, with all of the national forest land we have. You can drive up almost any ol’ dirt road and kick it for up to 14-days. But to camp for free on the water is a hard find. And the thing with paid camping on the water in the summertime of Montana, is that you either need to reserve your spot 9-months in advance or you need to time it right, in order to secure one of the first-come-first-serve spots. Cuz, guess who else wants to camp right on the water? EVERYONE.

The hitch in the giddy-up came about 2-hours in, after I had settled into my camp spot. There were other campers spread out along the stretch of river I was on but we were all giving each other the customary buffer of personal space. I had staked claim to a great little spot, where I could only just barely see the next campers down the way. I was enjoying a cup of freshly made tea when a group of about 6 adults came to hop in the water right by where I was stationed. They were camping somewhere nearby and my only guess was that I had secured one of the few good river access spots in the area. I mean, just because there’s a river doesn’t mean every spot along it lends itself well for hopping on in. I’m not sure why else they would’ve traveled down to where I was, as we were all camping beside the water.

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In Honor of the Holiday

Today’s holiday, Independence Day, while not on par with Thanksgiving or Christmas, in the everything-closes-in-the-work-sector department, still lends itself to the feeling of a Sunday morning. The town is quiet and slow to pick up its pace.

Independence Day

I’ve lived 10,000 lives,
felt the flash and flicker of flames on my skin
1 million times,
swam naked in every lake, river, and sea,
gazed upon innumerable sunsets and moon rises.

My heart has been steadied
by the pulsating of mountains,
my bones forged by the roots and trees.
My inhalations are ribbon-tied to the clouds,
my exhalations anchored to the people.

I’ve never not been here,
standing aground on this luscious earth.
I’ve been present since the dawn of time.
And I will remain, long after I’m gone.

 
 

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