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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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Divine Goodness

In my Webster’s dictionary, circa the year I graduated from high school: 1997, under the word Thanksgiving it states: 1. The act of giving thanks 2. A prayer expressing gratitude and 3. The fourth Thursday in November observed as a legal holiday for giving thanks for divine goodness. That last one is my favorite. I love that it stipulates how Thanksgiving is a legal holiday for the express purpose to give thanks for divine goodness.

Not only is Thanksgiving my favorite holiday but it’s also the only holiday I choose to celebrate throughout the year. And a big part of that has to do with how Thanksgiving focuses on togetherness and gratitude. There’s of course a feast we share as well, which helps to celebrate the bounty of the seasons but there’s no other consumeristic focus, and I really resonate with that aspect of things.

Last night, I was invited to take part in a Thanksgiving eve interfaith prayer service at First Presbyterian Church here in town, as a faith leader and Buddhist representative, and I was asked to do a reading with Father Rich Perry from St. Francis Xavier Church. In the interest of brevity, I’d like to share the portions that I read:

We give thanks for this world created in beauty even as we remember how fires, floods, earthquakes and hurricanes cause devastation and destruction. We give thanks for those who first respond: medical personnel, fire fighters, volunteers, neighbors and strangers even as we remember the work of rebuilding and restoration continues. Open our eyes to care for this world created in beauty.

We give thanks for strangers who became lifesavers even as we remember all who carry the scars of terror, violence and assault. We give thanks for the all who welcome strangers with gracious hospitality even as we remember the many refugees who are fleeing for their lives. Make a way, where there seems to be no way.

We give thanks for this Thanksgiving Eve where people of faith have gathered to pray and remember those who this day are searching for food, or housing, or friendship, or hope. Spur our grateful hearts to share our resources and hope with others.

 

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Being Peace

To listen to this post in audio on my podcast: https://soundcloud.com/inmindfulmotion/being-peace

The practice of cultivating joy – and its companion practice of smiling – are largely misunderstood. So often, people remark about the perils of discrediting their feelings of anger or sorrow for the false pursuit of pretending to be happy when they aren’t. But practicing joy and practice to smile have nothing at all to do with covering up or disregarding painful experiences. We get so caught in dualistic ways of thinking that we are unable to appreciate the nature of how both things can happen and often are happening simultaneously. So it’s not that we’re picking up one and putting down the other, it’s that we’re holding both at the same time.

Another pitfall here, too, involves our habit energies and the momentum we’ve built up over a lifetime of not knowing how to experience suffering in a skillful way. We have a tendency to either sit and stew and marinate in our hardships when they arise or we cover them up and distract or numb ourselves in regards to them. Thay (Thich Nhat Hanh) talks about how we prefer the suffering we’re used to and most familiar with. And along those lines, on a large level, we take comfort in our feelings of woe and struggle, regardless of what our approach is.

We have been practicing to suffer for a long time and not only that but we’ve been practicing in ways that keep us stuck and spinning in the same old stories. We all know how to suffer. What we don’t know how to do is be happy. We need to practice watering our seeds of joy and lessening the amount of water that we give to our seeds of suffering.

Our seeds of suffering are so strong and dominant in our mental/emotional landscape that they overshadow seeds which are more beneficial for us to grow. And these seeds are so used to getting our attention that they put up a fight when threatened with the possibility of losing their edge. So when we hear teachings on cultivating joy or the importance of smiling, our seeds of suffering throw a fit right away – they kick on their honey toned words and attempt to woo us back into relationship with them. And we tend to be persuaded by them. We buy into their argument of how joy and smiling are mere platitudes and how our struggles and anger and sorrow are somehow more “real” than that of generating peace and happiness. And this cycle will continue until we break it by learning how to practice joy and practice smiling and strengthening those seeds within ourselves.

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Static

I’ve been having a particular kind of static operating in the back recesses of my mental landscape lately, which has been interfering with my standard modes of frequency. Sometimes it’s more subtle and quiet; and other times it’s clamor is all I can hear. I’m feeling hesitant to go into more detail here on this public platform, so I apologize for speaking in general, nondescript terms.

Really the specifics matter little, when I think about it. Regardless of what static I happen to be experiencing – anger, sorrow, guilt, confusion, anxiety, stress, jealousy, lust, heartbreak, discomfort and so on – the practice remains the same. The first step is acknowledgment, or recognition, followed by: identification, acceptance, and investigation – with the hope of being able to move eventually into the art of embracing and transformation.

There’s no fire like that of lust,
No grasping like that of hate,
No snare like that of delusion,
No river like that of craving.

– Dhammapada

Acknowledgment: This first step may seem like a no-brainer. We have to start by recognizing what it is that’s coming up and running the show – to know what it is that we’re allowing to sweep us away from living life fully, in the here and now. So often, we simply have no idea what’s leading us around and propelling our discomfort and/or discontent, in whatever flavor it presents itself in. Adding further complication to this seemingly simply step is the fact that most of us have been taught and trained into thinking that certain emotions are not acceptable or are inappropriate or make us a “bad” person. So there’s a fair amount that can get in the way of being able to truly acknowledge that we even have feelings of anger or fear or craving, and so forth. The good news is: the more we practice to acknowledge our vast range of emotions that arise, the more we are able to understand them and interweave them into our full embodied experience of being human.

Identification: Being able to simply put a name, or label, on what it is that’s coming up for us and creating this static – as I’m choosing to call it here – may seem insignificant but in reality it can be extremely helpful in regards to stepping into the role of Observer, which can support us in creating some distance from the strong emotional charge that’s kicking up. Even just a sliver of distance can be beneficial in terms of ratcheting down the immediate pull that can so often accompany strong or otherwise challenging emotions.

So we start by saying: Yes, I am experiencing static. Then we call it by its true name, whether it be: fear, anger, sorrow, confusion, aversion, heartbreak, shame, hatred, jealousy, lust, etc.

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Posted by on November 16, 2017 in Everyday Practice

 

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Discomfort

What do you do to make sense of the world in moments when you wish it were different? How do you run and where do you go? Have you found tools for working well with fluctuations of every conceivable flavor of situation and spirit or are you bound to the same detrimental deviations perpetuating a lifetime of remorse, beholden to the swift allure of misery?

It might be drugs or alcohol we turn to for solace, it might be video games or TV or sex, or maybe it’s food we lose ourselves in – it could be overworking or overexercising or overmaintaining our small bubble of comfort or over anythinging that helps to dull whatever pain is present if we were to press pause in the moment.

There are a myriad of ways to run from the same pains that affect us all – and while some cause less harm than others, they all have the potential to unravel us one thread at a time.

We would do well to practice how to sit, settle, and be with the nature that surrounds us like the air we breathe: the nature of discomfort. And we need tools and skillful practices and things we can do to move through what would otherwise be an unsettling, disjointed, unexpected sliver of unfolding time, the likes of which leave a bitter, bile taste on our pallet.

As a woman I know who was me once said: There is nothing more potent than befriending that in which our inclination is to apprehend as suspect, to our own discomfort.

We need to get our friendship on with ourselves and everything which offers itself around us to the point of where regardless of what’s happening we can meet it as an opportunity to embrace verses an obstacle to run away from.

And the more we embrace the less we evade – the more we embrace the more space we create to allow the results that come having less baggage pitching and heaving in our wake to take place. A joyful life is possible – absorb this truth into your bones.

 

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Allowing Others To Be As They Are

This is me crafting a response to a friend that I thought might prove helpful to post here as well. Recently, a friend approached me inquiring about how I was able to manage the ability to stop trying to control my husband. She had spoken to my husband, Mike, and learned that one of the components in his journey of getting clean and sober 5 years ago, while simultaneously healing from a long bout of depression, involved the work I was doing on myself, centered around, among other things, letting go of being so controlling.

With the crucial support of Alanon (a 12-step group aimed at helping people who have loved ones struggling with addiction), I was able to learn a key element in regards to how to cultivate my own sense of deep-rooted joy and happiness, which was to detach from Mike with love. Detaching with love was an alien concept at first. I was clumsy around it and fumbled with it for a while as I tried to understand what it meant, in a real-life application sort of way. But I slowly started to figure it out, using a slightly adapted version of the Serenity Prayer as a guiding principle along the way (see my own re-worded iteration above).

It is my opinion that most of us do not really and truly know that we are not in the position to change other people. I think we have an intellectual grasp that we cannot change others, but when it comes down to it, we think we’re right and others are wrong on a routine basis. And as long as we think our way of doing things is the right way –  maybe even the ONLY way – then we will continue to try to assert control over others, especially those closest to us, in an effort to get them to change.

5 years ago, the work I was doing on myself could be summed up with this statement: I was learning how to take responsibility for the quality of my own well-being. One of the biggest pieces of doing this work involved coming to see how much I heaped the quality of my well-being onto Mike. How oftentimes my mood depended on his. How I allowed his actions to affect my attitude and outlook. I came to see that as long as my mood, disposition, attitude, and outlook relied on his, I was powerless. If I was needing him to be a certain way in order for me to be a certain way, I was going to be miserable, and stay that way.

I’ll take the issue of cleanliness, as an easy and workable example. I am someone who greatly appreciates, and on some level really needs, a sense of spacial orderliness and cleanliness. However, one look through the window into his truck cab, and you would clearly see that my husband could care less about such things. I spent years and years being the sort of wife who mastered the common and destructive patterns of being passive-aggressive: huffing and puffing my way around him picking up dishes and dirty clothes, stomping around on my way to take out the trash or mow the lawn, and washing dishes or cleaning the house with the manic energy of the Tasmanian Devil. And, of course, no master passive-aggressive would be complete without having their own well-cultivated Tone of Voice, indicating to those that know them best to Watch the F*** Out. I remember my mom’s Tone of Voice while growing up. Like mother like daughter.

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Posted by on October 27, 2017 in Everyday Practice

 

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