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Choosing to Shine

A few years ago, I started on a journey to practice shining more. Shining my talents, abilities, and forms of creative expression. For me, shining means stepping into something and not letting fear run the show. I came to see how often I shirked back from shining – out of fear. Fear of ego and fear of out-shining others.

In a little under 3-weeks, the culmination of my journey thus far will manifest in a solo spoken word performance and CD release party here in town. To say that I am nervous would be a remarkable understatement. But, as I’ve been sharing with folks lately, I’m proud of myself because despite having feelings of doubt and fear and uncertainty, I’m still doing it. I’m still moving forward, one scary moment at a time. My tracks are recorded and mastered; my CD’s are ordered; the gig is set; my booklet of lyrics is at the print shop. It’s happening!

If you’re interested in checking out my event page for this upcoming gig: https://spark.adobe.com/page/hC5Y8cQ32xv1e/

Something I’ve realized over the years is that fear isn’t rational, which is a big part of what makes it challenging to work with. If fear were a rational process, it would be fairly easy to talk our way out of it. But we all know that engaging in an intellectual dialog when it comes to a certain fear we have is futile. For example, let’s say we’re afraid of flying. Would it reduce your fear, even an iota, if someone were to give you the facts and statistics about how flying is safer than driving? No, probably not. Fear cannot be addressed in the head, it has to be addressed in the heart of our experience. In order to work with fear, we have to get out of our head and into our heart.

So that’s what I’ve been working on. Since fear lives in the head, I’ve been breathing in and practicing to exhale and delve deeper into the fragrant and calming waters of the heart. I’ve been practicing to use gentle and loving speech with myself: I see you fear. You are present and part of my experience AND I’m choosing not to let you run the show. You can hang out and all – but I’m choosing to shine.

I love that the following poem is so well-known. I’ve encountered it in a variety of places over the years – my most favorite spot being the middle school my stepson went to a few years ago, where an excerpt hung in large lettering on a banner in the hallway.

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Posted by on February 18, 2018 in Everyday Practice

 

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Deer Park Wrap Up

Tonight at my local sangha, Be Here Now, Mike and I, and a few of our sangha friends who recently spent time on retreat at Deer Park, will be offering a Deer Park (DP) retreat sharing panel as part of our format. There will be 5 of us on the panel and we’ll each share for 5 minutes or so about whatever is alive in our heart and our practice in regards to our time at DP. I plan on starting with a short intro and background about DP and then after the panel we’ll open up for Q & A. If there’s time, I also plan on showing a 10-minute DP video montage I put together from footage I took in January during our 3-week stay. And if there’s not time, then it’ll be an addendum after we close the group, for those wanting to stick around to watch it. I’m looking forward to this evening and hearing from my other friends about their retreat stay!

Here’s what I plan on saying for my sharing:

The importance of sangha practice is not new to me but I did delve deeper into this insight when I was at DP this last time. Being in close contact and interaction with my sangha – whether it’s my local home sangha, larger statewide Montana sangha, or the community at DP – is not an additional component of my mindfulness practice, like adding parmesan cheese to the top of a bowl of pasta. Sangha practice is equivalent to the tomatoes needed to make the sauce. It’s a necessary and critical ingredient.

Despite how strong and diligent my practice is with peppering in a variety of mindfulness tools and exercises throughout the day, if I were to stop attending sangha and stop attending retreats, my practice would eventually fall off and take a nose dive. Sangha practice is not just something nice to sprinkle in to my life when I have time or when I’m really craving connection, sangha practice is the center of the wooden wheel, which all the spokes splay out from.

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Befriending

All those parts of ourselves that we don’t like – all those parts we’re self-conscious about, that we try to hide or fight or squelch or fix – befriending is always the answer.

As soon as we embark on the genuine path of befriending, the frequency of the relationship dynamic to whatever it is about ourselves that we don’t like changes right away. As Carl Rogers (co-founder of the client-centered approach to psychology) stated:

“The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.”

~Carl Rogers

The pitfall that so many of us encounter in relation to inner transformational and healing work is the common predicament of trying to change, with the mindset of there being something about ourselves that’s damaged or broken or defective. We approach it from the angle of there being something wrong that needs fixing. And when we approach it from this standpoint the conditions for change and growth are extremely limited, because the ground for transformation and healing to take place is stripped and barren. What allows the ground to become fertile and ripe for transformation is the genuine act of befriending – acknowledging, accepting, and embracing ALL the parts of who we are. Only when we start to befriend ourselves can we start laying the foundation in order to build a more engaged, skillful, and well-contented life.

Befriending is always the answer. Whatever’s going on. Whether it’s something internal or external. Suffering is generated when we fight against something going on – when we want things to be different; other than as they are. To befriend is to stop struggling. To befriend is to allow things to be just as they are, to let things be. To let others be. To let ourselves be.

_______

In a recent class offered at Deer Park Monastery, Brother Kai Ly taught the following (which I consider to be the in-depth process of what befriending is all about):

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Posted by on February 9, 2018 in Everyday Practice

 

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Deer Park Journal: Day 13

2018 Deer Park Daily Musings
Written during a retreat I attended from January 5th-26th, 2018

Background Info & Terminology: Deer Park Monastery is rooted in the mindfulness tradition of Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh and is situated in Escondido, CA, north of San Diego.

Laypeople: Also called lay friends or laymen and laywomen; those of us who practice in this tradition but are not monks or nuns.
Monastics: The collective group of both monks and nuns.
Clarity Hamlet: Where the nuns, also called Sisters, reside. Laywomen stay here as well.
Solidity Hamlet: Where the monks, also called Brothers, reside. Laymen and couples/families stay here as well.
Thay: Refers to Thich Nhat Hanh, meaning “teacher” in Vietnamese

Thursday, January 18th 2018

Day 13

7:54am

Early morning haiku:

Where is my friend moon?
She’s been hiding for awhile
I miss seeing her

_____

This morning I find myself wanting to journal, verses what I would normally be doing at this time: walking/hiking around listening to music, preparing to enter a day of chatter and interactions and activity.

I played hooky last night and did not attend the Venerable’s Class. I had had my fill of both people and the teachings themselves, after having watched a Dharma talk video from Thay yesterday for 90 minutes, so I chose to stay in. Mike went but returned back to the room early, as he too decided that he wasn’t feeling up to the class. In general, evenings are not my time to shine anyways, when it comes to applying focused energy. Had I attended the class, it would’ve been more an exercise in enduring sleepiness and building patience – both good things to practice, to be sure, and yet there are times when something else is called for instead.

After continued deliberation, I decided to respectfully decline the invitation to be on the 5-person Q&A panel slated for today. I wrote a note this morning while waiting for the breakfast bell to sound and gave it to the aspirant in charge of the activity. (An aspirant – here at Deer Park – is someone who has declared and been formally accepted in their intention to become a Monk or Nun but has not yet received ordination.) It was a difficult decision, as part of me feels as though I should’ve accepted regardless of my hesitations. But I truly feel it is the best decision for me and for the sangha. The other multi-person Q&A panel I was on did not best support the sangha, in my opinion, and for me that is the most important thing to take into consideration.

At 9:00am all the lay friends from both hamlets will gather here in Solidity in what’s known as the Circle Garden. We’ll then be doing outdoor walking meditation, followed by some qi gong. The Q&A panel will be at 10:00 and then dharma discussion will be at 11:15, and lunch at 12:30. Then, just like last week on Thursday, it will be Lazy Afternoon and Lazy Evening – and, I assume also like last week, Lazy Morning tomorrow, too.

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Deer Park Journal: Day 11

2018 Deer Park Daily Musings
Written during a retreat I attended from January 5th-26th, 2018

Background Info & Terminology: Deer Park Monastery is rooted in the mindfulness tradition of Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh and is situated in Escondido, CA, north of San Diego.

Laypeople: Also called lay friends or laymen and laywomen; those of us who practice in this tradition but are not monks or nuns.
Monastics: The collective group of both monks and nuns.
Clarity Hamlet: Where the nuns, also called Sisters, reside. Laywomen stay here as well.
Solidity Hamlet: Where the monks, also called Brothers, reside. Laymen and couples/families stay here as well.
Thay: Refers to Thich Nhat Hanh, meaning “teacher” in Vietnamese

Tuesday, January 16th 2018

Day 11

7:17pm

Early morning haiku:

My eyes awaken
a smile alights my face
all is fresh and new

_____

Upon consulting with San Diego Birds, A Folding Pocket Guide to Familiar Species, I’ve ascertained that the winged ones I’ve seen around the monastery are as follows: Western Scrub Jay, California Thrasher, Great Horned Owl, Greater Roadrunner, California Quail, and, of course, my dearest friends the American Crow and the Common Raven. There’s also the lovely Red-Tailed Hawks, who take up shop in the oak grove. There are others, too. Smaller songbirds. But I’m afraid there’s little distinction I can make out between them – they all look the same to me!

According to the Pocket Guide, American Crows have a distinct call – caw, whereas Common Ravens have a hoarse croak call. Great Horned Owls have a resonant call: hoo-HOO-hoooo. Western Screech-Owls, on the other hand, make a series of short, accelerating whistles. And Barn Owls’ call is a purring shriek (whatever that is!).

Mike and I had an informal meeting with Brother Phap Ho tonight after dinner. We had asked for his council in regards to the residential practice community we are wanting to start and he happily agreed to meet with us. So, as there is a sitting meditation tonight at 8:00pm, I’ll have to keep today’s journal entry short.

I came across this quote from the Buddha this morning, in a back issue of what used to be known as Shambhala Sun magazine: “If we keep death in front of us, if we are aware of it, we will live better lives.” I think this teaching points to why death and dying are so focused on in Buddhism. When we understand full well that death could come calling at any time, why then would we choose to waste what precious time we are afforded?!

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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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For the New Year

The last couple of years, I’ve taken to following the example of a few mindfulness teachers that I follow online, who come up with some guidance to offer for the upcoming year. I figured since we were entering 2018, I’d come up with 8 practice points to usher us into the new year (see pic above).

I’ve written in the past about how I’m not a big fan of making new year’s resolutions, but what I do like to do is come up with 1, 2, or 3 new ways of engaging with my mindfulness practice. My favorite one over this past year was to stay in the bathroom while brushing my teeth, instead of wandering around the house multi-tasking, with the toothbrush comically protruding from my mouth while I proceeded to do a wealth of other things that had no business being done while brushing one’s teeth. So I enacted a “stay put” clause, whenever I set to brushing. It took me a little while to develop the new habit, but I’m happy to report that it’s going splendidly :)

I’ve been mulling around possibilities for 2018 and what new mindfulness exercises I might add to my tool belt, but so far I haven’t landed on exactly what I’ll include in my daily/weekly routine. I’d like to have one I can enfold into driving, as that is often where I need the most practice in patience and understanding. I have a number of things I do already when behind the wheel, but I really appreciate developing fresh approaches and new mindfulness techniques, as it keeps my practice from growing stale and/or too routine. I’ll keep you posted!

In the meantime, may the above list of 8 practice points be of service to you on the path of cultivating more joy, ease, and a true sense of connection.

To read the Five Mindfulness Trainings, click here.

 

 

 

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