Morning Fire

6am.

Full moon soaring like a child’s heart that doesn’t yet know to keep it buckled up for safety. I started a fire out back – the best decision I’ve made in a long time – with the rich supply of sticks and thickened branches from our recently fallen elm limb.

When I lift my gaze, I can see both points of light cutting through the slowly lifting darkness. Sticks burn quick, so I’m up resupplying the blaze in frequent intervals.

My long hair will carry the scent of burning wood well into the day, perfuming the air in my wake until I shake it loose when next I shower. A badge of honor to be sure.

7am.

I’ve reinvigorated the fire with more sustainable fuel so that I can draw this grace-filled morning out a little while longer.

A backdrop of crows and the snap, popping of the fire stood in for my morning chant, as I sat in meditation in the glow of the flames and the sinking moon.

Samantabhadra

Recap:

This post is part of a 5-week series in relation to the Five Bodhisattvas and a Reflection Group I put together and am part of with a few sangha friends of mine.

Bodhisattva literally means “enlightened being.” The Plum Village chant book defines it as such: One committed to enlightening oneself and others so that all may be liberated from suffering.

In our practice tradition, we are especially urged not to regard the bodhisattva’s as external separate entities but more as qualities in which to actively cultivate within our own self, for the benefit of all beings. While the Bodhisattva’s are mentioned as actual human beings – and disciples of the Buddha – in the sutras, we are encouraged to see them as representing skill-sets and capabilities in which to hone and sharpen in our own life.

We read and reflect on one bodhisattva at a time for one full week and then answer three reflection questions each Sunday, which we email out to the group of participants.

These are the bodhisattvas in the order most commonly encountered in our tradition:

Avalokiteshvara: Bodhi. of Great Compassion
Manjushri: Bodhi. of Great Understanding
Samantabhadra: Bodhi. of Great Action
Kshitigarbha: Bodhi. of Great Aspiration
Sadaparibhuta: Bodhi. of Never Disparaging

This last week was week #3.

Here is the verse, my journal entries, and my answers to our group reflection questions for Samantabhadra:

_______

We invoke your name, Samantabhadra. We aspire to practice your vow to act with the eyes and heart of compassion, to bring joy to one person in the morning and to ease the pain of one person in the afternoon. We know that the happiness of others is our own happiness, and we aspire to practice joy on the path of service. We know that every word, every look, every action, and every smile can bring happiness to others. We know that if we practice wholeheartedly, we ourselves may become an inexhaustible source of peace and joy for our loved ones and for all species.

_______

3/20

This is the bodhisattva I resonate with personally the most. This is the bodhisattva of Great Action, and I often refer to myself humorously as a Woman of Action.

There are so many lovely lines in the verse – and I find the especially lovely because I’ve personally encountered and experienced them in my life. I am someone who puts great emphasis on practicing joy on the path of service. And in doing so, I’ve seen firsthand how true it is that the happiness of others is my own happiness; how every word/look/action/smile can bring happiness to others; and how when I practice wholeheartedly, I am able to becomes an inexhaustible source of peace and joy for others.

For me, cultivating joyful-based actions is my highest and most important aspiration on my path of practice. When I set my compass in this direction, I see clearly the ripple effects that occur as a result, everywhere I go.

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Winter Saunter

Thankfully, I’m not easily intimidated by winter weather driving – I mean really, I have a Subaru for goodness sake, this is, in part, what they’re made for. Now, don’t get me wrong, there are times when it would be ill-advised to venture out, but I did not deem today to be one of those days.

Instead, I labeled today’s blustery conditions and smoke-machine-esque ice-marbled roads as a prime time to uphold my self-proclaimed status as a gal who enjoys pushing against the commonly held feminine norms, such as exists around: traveling solo, driving in inclement weather on sketchy roads, and eating out in public with only the company of a good book and writing supplies.

After an hour spent at the Garden of One Thousand Buddhas in Arlee, I landed at the Dixon Mercantile, a place so delightfully quaint that I instantly felt right at home.

There’s something extremely satisfying and life-affirming in skirting collective modes of operation, such as heading north on a solo saunter on Sunday February 3rd in near white-out conditions, and living to tell the tale.

P.S If you live in the area or are ever in the area of western Montana, the Dixon Mercantile (in Dixon, MT) is only 40 miles from Missoula and they are almost solely only open on Sundays from 9-2 for brunch. The owner Laura is super great, the food was really good, and they make homemade fresh bread and pastries. Need I say more?

_________

Yesterday, I spent 5 uninterrupted hours writing, pretty well glued in the same spot the whole time with only the occasional tea making and bio break to incite bodily movement away from my keyboard. It was glorious.

Today, I road on up north, as any asphalt adventurer knows, it’s unwise to disobey the call of the open road when it summons thee. I followed tire tracks instead of painted lines and in an area thick with mountains, I managed to see none all the way to Arlee and then Dixon.

To be fair, I did consider not heading out on my drive-about prior to leaving the house, once I was confronted with the state of weather happening outside. But it was only about 2% of me that sat in question; the other 98% urged me eagerly onward ho.

Besides, I DID go to all the trouble of running a brush through my hair like two times before putting a winter hat on AND putting on cold-hardy clothes over the top of my pajamas. I was also well equipped with the essentials of winter travel: a fresh Contigo full of tea, my camera, writing supplies, a Subaru, and a good attitude.

And, I figured, one never grows familiar and accustomed to a thing, if said thing is never done.

Sometimes, what’s called for is to foster connection with members of my beloved tribe of humans, as I did last weekend. And sometimes, what’s called for is to bolster the relationship I have with myself, as I’ve been doing this weekend.

_________

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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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Journal Entries from Lake Como (Montana style)

I got back yesterday from an overnight excursion to Lake Como – the Montana version, not the one in Italy. Here are some of the (unedited) journal musings I penned while out on the water and camping in the woods.

Friday July 13th

Not yet 8pm. Shadows grow in the forest, as the sun wanes and the sky fades to pale blue, like an after-thought. Cowboy Junkies on the portable speaker prove the perfect accompaniment to my cup of tea and the creek beside me, small but surging mightily, just like me.

A bluebird day on the lake coats my skin and sits tangled in my long hair. And I’m the sort of tired that I remember from my youth, after a day spent sunbathing, running from ocean waves, and flirting with bronze-glazed boys thick with intrigue. A delicious tired, sugared with a communion with something bigger.

There’s a certain aliveness, in this flavor of winding down, following a day that leaves your face awash in the reds of summer. And I reckon I’ll sleep good tonight, rocked in lullaby arms by the song of the water making its way over rocks downstream.

_______

I breathe just a little bit deeper in the woods, befriended by my rooted brethren.

I breathe deeper when gazing at mountain peaks, as a witness to stellar beauty.

And I breathe deeper whenever I look up – at trees or buildings or sky – as it helps me to remind me that I am part of a whole big and wide open world.

_______

9:18pm

I feel asleep with my friend Ashly’s book manuscript on my stomach and just awoke. The forest is darkening to muted greens and flat tones of ash. I smell of insect repellent and sunscreen and solitude, a mixture I take solace in more than words can properly convey. Still finding my way venturing on solo overnights in the woods, an inner stirring of uneasiness arises, when I think of how the babbling creek would drown out the approach of ne’er-do-wells I try not to imagine are thrumming through the night on back roads, looking for a fresh target to mess with. (Added side note: For the record, ne’er-do-well is a word that I like the sound of far more than the dictionary definition of, as it means a worthless person, which I don’t at all subscribe to as being a possibility. I think of this word as referring to a person who is up to no good.)

In my evening cat nap, I think I may have dreamed in color, rich in the dalliances of friendships past and those I hope soon will come. Though, it’s hard to say for sure. Dreams are tricky that way. Sometimes they scoop me up and swallow me whole, rendering me awash in memory’s twilight. Other times, I become a false impression in their wake, stumbling around within myself for hope of grounding in a truth I can bite into and chew.

______

My mind kicks up storm clouds, like the haze left behind on a dirt road in the heat of summer. And sometimes, despite my best efforts to redirect my focus, it is undeterred from its obsessions of thought.

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Inspiration vs Intimidation

I follow Tiny Buddha on twitter (see image credit above) and really appreciate what they put out into the twitter-sphere. I re-post a lot of their memes on our sangha’s Be Here Now Community facebook page. I came across this one above just the other day and it fits exceptionally well into a subject that’s been alive for me lately, both pre and post my solo spoken word performance and album release last Friday, on the nature of inspiration vs. intimidation.

Along these lines, I penned this in my journal early this morning:

I’m aware that I am a person who shows up big. Even when I’m not saying anything – even when I’m just…sitting there. I know because I know. Because I have eyes and ears and an open heart that renders me observant. I know because people have told me. And it’s not as though I’m putting on airs or trying to show up in a certain way. Still, it translates in generally one of two ways, depending on how comfortable the other person is in their own skin whilst in my midst. My “bigness” is either inspiring or intimidating, and sometimes it’s a mixture of both at the same time.

It used to be that I was inclined towards over-caretaking for those who were left to feel inferior in my wake, by dimming my light and trying to ratchet down my “bigness.” But I’m realizing more and more that this is not a sound plan. Adjusting my light to compensate for the insecurity of others only serves to limit who I really am.

My work is to do my work, to be as kind and full-hearted as possible – and have that be not only enough but ALL of it. People will have the experiences they do, whether I show up big or cower back from fear of causing others offense or discomfort. It’s not my job to manage their energy (as though I even could!), as long as I’m doing my very best to be as skillful and loving as possible.

This is a practice I imagine I’ll be working on for the rest of my days. Because while I’m invested in continuing to shine my light and showing up how I show up, I’m also concerned with the energy exchange that occurs in relationships, and want to be sensitive to how I might overpower people in certain situations. I’m aware that not every moment is a time to shine. Sometimes the best action is non-action, to step back a bit and allow others the space and opportunity to do their thing. Sometimes I do need to dim my light, in order to get out of someone else’s way, so they can shine.

 

 

 

 

Solo Retreat, Part 2 of 3

Written on Saturday June 17th, 2017

7:19pm

A few years ago, a university student, who was sitting with our sangha at the time, asked if she could do a video project of me on the topic of meditation for a journalism class she was taking. One of the questions she prompted me with on camera was to fill in the blank: Meditation is like ______. I said: Meditation is like stepping out into the first light of spring. It was simply the first thing that came to mind. Well, today has felt this way, too. It has been the loveliest of days. I feel light, refreshed, nourished, peaceful, and contented. What great fruits this practice brings!

It’s worth mentioning that while I did come up with a schedule to serve as a foundation for this weekend, I also intended on going with the flow of the day and following my intuition. Here’s what today wound up looking like:

5:30am Wake up
5:30-7:00am Sip tea, write, watch the morning sky
7:00am Sitting meditation
7:30am Sutra service
8:00am Stick exercises
8:30-9:00am Breakfast
9:15-10:30am Dharma talk video
10:30-11:15am Outdoor walking
11:30-12:15pm Yoga (using guided video)
12:15-12:45pm Picnic lunch outside
12:45-1:45pm Nap
2:00-4:00pm Sip tea, write, calligraphy, read
4:00pm Sitting meditation
4:30pm Sutra service
5:00-6:00pm Dinner
6:15-6:45pm Outdoor walking & sage picking
7:00-9:00pm Journal typing
9:00-9:30pm Read
9:30ish Bedtime

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