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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.

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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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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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On Mufflers

Prior to last Thursday, it’d been about 4 years or so that my ride: a ’94 Subaru Legacy, sounded akin to a small jet engine prop plane, due to a rusted out muffler. The fortitude of the car was such that when, alas, I pulled over upon getting off the interstate in town, directly following our local spring retreat back in April, to find my muffler adangle on the asphalt, I had to wrench and claw at the dang-blasted thing for 20-minutes to pry off what remained of it. And even then, I was only able to get about 80% of it off. I wound up having to send out the bat signal to Mike, so he could swoop in as the roadside cape-crusader and wrestle out the last 20%, which was both greatly appreciated and a large disappointment, given the fact that I really wanted to be victorious on my own accord.

I found it entertaining that the noise emanating from my car, pre muffler falling off, sounded absolutely no different than it did once it was gone. But, as I’d both gotten used to the rumbling and have a policy of not putting any money into the car that isn’t crucial to its functioning – given that at 337,000 miles, any day could be its last – the fact that everyone could hear my car in a 2-block radius didn’t really bother me. Besides, I mostly fly solo in my car and my love for loud music tended to drown out the ruckus. The only times I really noticed and was off-put by the muffler’s cacophony was when I’d have passengers riding along with me, as holding a conversation meant upping the volume of your voice, in regards to someone riding shotgun – and was pretty much a total lost cause all together if you were kickin it in the backseat – or when I’d start my car early in the morning or come home late at night: sorry neighbors!

Perhaps if I’d ridden in my own backseat more often, I would’ve been propelled to get a new muffler 4 years ago. A couple of weeks ago, I rode in the backseat from Spokane back to Missoula, to afford the dynamic duo: my husband and 18-year-old stepson, the chance to chat about all the things they wonderfully love to geek out on together, and I have little interest in, such as: science fiction related audio books, gaming, dark TV shows, politics, and, most recently, the art of magic, and was able to marinate in my car’s muffler musings on a much more intimate level. When we got home, the first thing I said when we walked in the door was: I think it’s time to get a new muffler.

So, last Thursday, I was the first appointment of the day at a place called the Muffler Bandit. I was told it would take about an hour, so I brought along a book and supplies in which to fashion a letter to my friend Daniel, who’s incarcerated at Montana State Prison. But perhaps because it was only 8:00am and things were still pretty quiet around town and in the shop, or perhaps it was due to the fact that there was nothing for the mechanic to take off of the car, my Sube was saddled up with a shiny new muffler in just 20 minutes. My car was serviced in such a short amount of time that I was even a little sad to have to vacate the premises, as I was just getting into the flow of writing my letter to Daniel. It also happens that I thoroughly enjoy writing in new and exotic places and I’d never had the chance to write in a muffler shop before (see pic above). But, I reluctantly packed up, paid my $160, and headed out. When the mechanic gave me the keys, I delighted in how he framed my new quiet vehicular stead. He said: Now you’re back in stealth mode. His declaration reminding me both of my secret longing to be a ninja and the time my stepson and I got busted trying to pull a prank on my friend Jennifer at 11:00 at night, last winter. We had parked 2-3 blocks away from her house, on account of my car’s loud rumbling, but it wasn’t the trademark sound of my car that tipped her off to our shenanigans. It was the fact that we managed to time our hi-jinks with the same time she was cruising home from the grocery store – which taught me, for future reference, that she seldom parks her car in the back by the garage.

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Posted by on December 19, 2017 in Everyday Practice

 

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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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Not Eating the Cookie

44. Train in the three difficulties.

Commentary

The three difficulties (or the three difficult practices) are:

  1. To recognize your neurosis as neurosis,
  2. then not to do the habitual thing, but to do something different to interrupt the neurotic habit, and
  3. to make this practice a way of life.

– from Always Maintain a Joyful Mind by Pema Chodron

Last week, I made 6-dozen chocolate chip cookies – 4 as a contribution for a hospice function and 2 for my boys, Mike and Jaden (husband & stepson, respectively). (I mean really, is there anything more heartless than volunteering to bake cookies for an event and then telling the people you reside alongside with: Sorry guys, I know the house smells delicious and all but these cookies are all spoken for.) As my home bakery got up and running, there were cookies on every available surface, strewn about the kitchen, as far as the eye could see. And my practice in that moment was to not eat the cookies. And it wasn’t easy. But, as I’ve been training in the skilled art of not eating the cookie, for the past 3-4 years now, it wasn’t as hard as it used to be.

Four years ago, I would’ve thought it madness, an impossibility of colossal proportion, to not eat the cookie. After all, cookies – and chocolate in general and most other things full of sugar – are the express culmination of all things good and decent in the world. But now that I’ve been training, even though it is still trying at times, I’m starting to enter a new realm that I’ve heard tale about, but scoffed at and sloughed off as being sheer and total nonsense and lunacy. The realm of not only not eating the cookie but delighting in not eating the cookie. And much of the time, this realm includes not even being tempted to eat the cookie, as its allure has greatly diminished over time.

They don’t call to me like they once did – or, maybe it’s that I’ve learned to tune them out. Ah, yes. That’s it. I now declare, triumphantly: Let the cookies call all they want! I’m not picking up!

I’m now imagining our landline ringing. Bring bring, bring bring. I go to check the caller i.d and there, displayed in bold letters taking up the whole of the phone screen, is one word: COOKIES. If it had been when I first started working on my sugar addiction, I would’ve burst into a cold sweat upon seeing that COOKIES were calling. But now, I’m all like: Leave a message after the beep, COOKIES. But don’t hold your breath waiting for me to call back! And the COOKIES are all like: Nicole, was it something we said?! We miss you. Don’t you miss us?! And then I’m all like: Boom! Nope!

It’s important to mention that my ability to not eat a single cookie when surrounded by 6-dozen in various stages of preparation in the kitchen, is the equivalent of the sugar Olympics, when it comes to the sport of not eating the cookie. I would not advise anyone to start here. I needed to do some serious training to get where I am now. Trying to break the cycle of sugar addiction while surrounded by a sea of cookies is like learning how to swim by just jumping in the deep end and seeing how it goes. In short: it won’t be pretty. There will be flailing about – and most likely, it will end by either you or someone in close proximity uttering these words in distress: Man down!

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Posted by on December 11, 2017 in Everyday Practice

 

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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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Today

The four aspects of the Plum Village Tradition (Thich Nhat Hanh’s practice) are: study, practice, work, and play.

Today:

Let us study our relationships with one another.

Let us practice to enfold the quality of mindfulness into as many of our daily activities as we can.

Let us work to be fully present in the here and now.

And let us play in the fluid motion of joy, as we train in the art of not taking ourselves so seriously.

Having a sense of humor, being able to delight in simple pleasures, and not taking oneself so seriously is of great benefit. Here’s a 1-minute video I took yesterday – may it help you to train in the fluid art of cultivating joy.

P.S. In case you’re wondering, the little toy in this video is solar powered. Prior to yesterday, I had no idea it could dance with such vigor!

 
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Posted by on November 25, 2017 in Everyday Practice, Fun, video

 

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