Yep, here i am talking about gratitude…again

Gratitude is one of my favorite subjects. One of my favorite practices to engage with and invest time and energy into. One of my favorite mindfulness-related skillsets to delve more into and unpack. Gratitude is both in and of itself a virtue to continually nourish and strengthen and it’s also a gateway to other beneficial unfoldings.

Gratitude has many other companion seeds in the garden of life. When we water the seed of gratitude, we’re also watering the seeds of: joy, kindness, resiliency, equanimity, understanding, compassion, and ease.  I’ve stated in the past and stand by it: in my view, if we chose only one practice to nourish and develop, gratitude would be more than enough.

Given my affinity for the practice and development of gratitude, I especially delight in the moments when I stumble across insights from teachers or info from articles in regards to gratitude.

“What is the one thing that people who can fully lean into joy have in common? Gratitude. They practice gratitude. It’s not an “attitude of gratitude” – it’s an actual practice. They keep a journal, or make a note of what they’re grateful for on their phones, or share it with family members…

Embodying and practicing gratitude changes everything.”

Brené Brown, from Dare to Lead, pg. 83

 

And just today, I came across a link to an article in my twitter feed that said:

“Over Thanksgiving, in between mouthfuls of turkey and sweet potato pie, many of us will be asking ourselves: What are we grateful for?

Taking a moment to practice gratitude like this isn’t an empty holiday tradition. It’s good for our mental and physical health. And here’s another thing: It can actually change our brains in ways that make us more altruistic.

The past two decades have seen a flurry of research on gratitude, beginning in the early 2000s with a series of landmark papers by Robert Emmons, Michael McCullough, and other psychologists. In recent years, we’ve learned through several scientific studies that there’s a deep neural connection between gratitude and giving — they share a pathway in the brain — and that when we’re grateful, our brains become more charitable.”

– from Giving thanks may make your brain more altruistic: Neuroscience is revealing a fascinating link between gratitude and generosity

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100 Percent

Yesterday morning, I started watching a recent Dharma talk given by Brother Phap Dung at Plum Village Monastery, as part of the three-months Rains Retreat. In it, he spoke of a practice tool that I’d heard about a while back but had forgotten about (one that I intended to remember and put into use). He held up a business-sized card and in large bold type it read simply: 100%.

The Brother shared about how Thay (Thich Nhat Hanh) once gave all of the monks and nuns those cards as a practice tool, encouraging them to practice 100%.

In relation to the cards, the Brother also spoke about how we are the CEO of the business of making togetherness – how together, we are one. So, in a way, these cards can also serve as our actual business cards as practitioners and students of Thay. Our job is to practice mindfulness and connection; to show up in the world with compassion and kindness and curiosity; to build and strengthen and nourish community; to engage skillfully with our self and others, 100%.

I decided to make a stack of these cards with some cardstock I had on hand and a calligraphy pen. I placed one in my wallet and I made more to give out at my local sangha, for those who might be inspired to utilize its teaching. And at a gathering I went to last night, where there were some art supplies set out for community use, I fashioned a small wooden pendant with “100%” scrolled on it with colorful markers, which now dangles from the rearview mirror in my car.

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Four Elements of Lay Life

Lately, I’ve been thinking about what the foundational elements of my life are, as a lay practitioner in the Plum Village Buddhist tradition. A while back, I watched a Dharma talk online from a monastic Sister where she spoke of the founding principles of monastic life at the monasteries in our tradition and I think, if I remember right, what I’ve landed on is similar to what she shared.

I’ve identified four elements – and to be clear, theses are ones I’ve simply recognized are true and in play for myself personally, this is not any sort of official list adopted by anyone other than myself.

Nicole’s Four Foundational Elements of Lay Practice Life

  1. Practice (includes Dharma study)
  2. Work
  3. Rest
  4. Play (includes music/art/creative expression)

For me, it’s helpful to understand clearly what my foundational elements are as a lay practitioner so that I know what my priorities are and in what direction I want to be spending my time and limited energy. Life is about balance. And for me it’s about balancing these four elements, often on a daily basis.

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Am I Sure?

wake up to

On Saturday, August 10th, a short article I wrote for the Community of Faith column ran in the Missoulian. Here it is, in its entirety:

In our Buddhist based practice, the Plum Village tradition led by Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh, we are encouraged to practice with the question: Am I sure? Let’s say, for example, that I am confronted with someone whose way of engaging with the world is quite contrary to my own and I think to myself: Gosh, that person is crazy. In times such as these, my practice is to ask myself: Am I sure? Am I sure that I know full well what that person is going through and where they are coming from? Am I sure that I know what’s fueling their behavior or approach to a particular situation? Am I sure this person is crazy? The answer, on all counts, is clear. Of course not! I often have little to no idea of the causes and conditions that are propelling someone else’s thoughts, speech, and/or actions. My reactionary judgments that arise, in any given situation, are not at all an accurate and full accounting of what’s actually taking place.

It’s so very easy for me to think I know something when in truth I really have no idea at all, especially when it comes to assessing someone else’s character or behavior. Using the Am I sure? question affords me the opportunity to create space in between what’s happening externally and the thoughts/speech/actions that I engage in as a result. It allows me to move from reacting to responding.

Recently, I attended a local outdoor concert where a homeless resident of Missoula came on the scene and proceeded to disrupt the event by yelling violently, both to herself and to the band that was playing. In response to her behavior, there was a critical and disrespectful approach taken with her. In short order, I realized that I was likely the only one on hand that saw the immensity of distress present in this homeless woman. Others seemed only to be focused on how inappropriate and rude she was being, in an otherwise peaceful gathering. Had the other event-goers at the time been reflecting on the Am I sure? question, perhaps it would’ve become clear that the homeless woman was likely suffering deeply from the results of untreated mental illness, versus intentionally trying to cause harm and upset of a personal nature.

Thich Nhat Hanh adds further that if when we ask our self the question Am I sure? the answer is: Yes! that we should ask the question again.

I have great affection for this wisdom teaching and I use this practice question often in my daily life. I have found that it helps to keep me angled in the direction of understanding, compassion, and kindness, which are three foundational tenets of human connection.

Nicole Dunn is an ordained member of the Order of Interbeing in the Plum Village tradition and serves as the director of the Open Way Mindfulness Center and the program director of the Be Here Now Sangha.

For original article in the Missoulian, click here.

Eleven Guidelines for Daily Life

This morning, while reading Thay’s commentary on the Eight Realizations of the Great Beings sutra, in his book Awakening of the Heart, I came upon the Eleven Guidelines for Daily Life. I enjoyed this teaching right away and found it  deeply nourishing, so I thought I’d share it here.

Eleven Guidelines for Daily Life

By Thich Nhat Hanh, from Awakening of the Heart

“Here are eleven guidelines for daily life, based on the insights found in the sutra: (The Eight Realizations of the Great Beings):

  1. While meditating on the body, do not hope or pray to be exempt from sickness.  Without sickness, desires and passions can easily arise.
  2. While acting in society, do not hope or pray not to have any difficulties.  Without difficulties, arrogance can easily arise.
  3. While meditating on the mind, do not hope or pray not to encounter hindrances.  Without hindrances, present knowledge will not be challenged or broadened.
  4. While working, do not hope or pray not to encounter obstacles.  Without obstacles, the vow to help others will not deepen.
  5. While developing a plan, do not hope or pray to achieve success easily.  With easy success, arrogance can easily arise.
  6. While interacting with others, do not hope or pray to gain personal profit.  With the hope for personal gain, the spiritual nature of the encounter is diminished.
  7. While speaking with others, do not hope or pray not to be disagreed with.  Without disagreement, self-righteousness can flourish.
  8. While helping others, do not hope or pray to be paid.  With the hope of remuneration, the act of helping others will not be pure.
  9. If you see personal profit in an action, do not participate in it.  Even minimal participation will stir up desires and passions.
  10. When wrongly accused, do not attempt to exonerate yourself.   Attempting to defend yourself will create needless anger and animosity.
  11. The Buddha spoke of sickness and suffering as effective medicines.  Times of difficulties and accidents are also times of freedom and realization.  Obstacles can be a form of liberation.  The Buddha reminded us that the army of evil can be the guards of the Dharma.  Difficulties are required for success.  The person who mistreats one can be one’s good friend.  One’s enemies are as an orchard or garden.  The act of doing someone a favor can be as base as the act of casting away a pair of old shoes.  The abandonment of material possessions can be wealth and being wrongly accused can be the source of strength to work for justice.”

One month from turning 40

In one month from today,
I’ll turn forty.
Does that mean something?
I think it might.

I think it might mean
bidding a fond farewell to a decade of time
book-ended by zeros
and ushering in a new one,
as though it were a crisp,
unwrinkled, never worn gown
to slip into and dance on
endlessly into the night.

Everything that meant anything important
I’ve learned so far,
I’ve learned from unlearning something else.

Like how love means letting go
not holding on,
and a life filled with meaning
has little to do with money.
Or how kindness is a superpower
not a weakness,
and angling towards joy
doesn’t mean to ignore the darkness,
it means to not ignore the light.

I have inherited a body of knowledge
not my own –
a body of paper skin and earthen bones, too.
Flawed, perfect,
scarred, broken, perfect.
Did I mention perfect?

There is nothing on this splendid,
spinning, blue-green marble planet,
strung like a pearl on its cosmic necklace,
that wasn’t supposed to happen,
simply for the fact that it did.

If my years so far could be distilled
into one sentiment worth mentioning,
it would be this:
To live a well-contented life,
it’s crucial to stop fighting.

To stop fighting:
Sickness
Aging
Death.

To stop fighting with the truth of how every single thing –
and every single one of us, our self included –
is of the nature to change.

Mormon Creek

 

Interloping flowers mixed with pines,
moisture soaked earth perfumed
with springtime.
Mormon Creek surges
rushing in my ears
eager to hear all they can of this place.

The forest is still,
steeped in an outer quietude
that translates inside,
where my heart beats with a fierceness
mirrored by the raging of fire
and glows with the luminosity
of 10,000 points of light.

And then there’s the settling –
once the trees penetrate the forest
of my armor and misgivings.
A calm that hushes the
swingings of thought
and presses pause on the ol’ to-do list,
in the most reasonable of ways.

And there’s never any doubt –
blatant or subtle –
that this interplay of self and nature
is anything other than right,
sensical, profound and sacred.

It’s never been – or ever will be –
a waste of time to ratchet down
and breathe among the trees,
where roots wind in sprawl underfoot
and plans become a thing to be had
some place else.

My tired eyes are propped open
by intrigue,
held deliciously captive by
sprigs of budding growth,
and the greening underbelly
of creation.