Not Giving Up

In my last post, I shared: In regards to the friendship I’m currently in heartache over, I’ve come to realize – after much processing back and forth – that there is a way for me to keep my heart open to this person while also distancing myself from them.

Shortly after writing this, I came across a well-timed article on Twitter, entitled Why You Should Never Give Up on Anybody by Lodro Rinzler. Don’t you just love when things line up?

I clicked on the link right away and set to reading the article. Here it is, if you’d like to give it a gander.

I especially appreciated this segment from the article:

In the Buddhist tradition we refer to beings willing to keep their heart open no matter what as bodhisattvas. Bodhi is a Sanskrit word which can be translated as “open” or “awake.” Sattva can be translated from Sanskrit as “being” or “warrior.” It’s a person who is incredibly brave in maintaining an open heart, no matter what comes up in their life. This experience is something we can aspire to. The Zen master Seung Sahn once said, “Being a bodhisattva means when people come, don’t cut them off; when people go, don’t cut them off.”

I was so enjoying this article – that is, until I got to the end, where Lodro shared this practice:

HOW TO NOT GIVE UP

Pema Chödron is an American Buddhist teacher who has written extensively about the pain of a broken heart and I can’t recommend her work more highly. Below I have adapted an exercise she has recommended. It starts by taking a photo of the person you are having a hard time with and displaying it prominently in your home. This may initially cause you discomfort. So much of heartbreak is staying with our discomfort.

Every time you walk by the photo look at the being you are struggling with and simply say, “I wish you the best.” If that rings hollow to you instead say, “I know you are basically good” or “You’re not a jerk all the time.” Whatever phrase you choose, make it personal, but some version of acknowledging that they are not basically evil. Do this several times a day, whenever your gaze falls on the photo. Let your heart soften over time.

 

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Re-Envisioning the Practice

This morning, I watched a portion of a Dharma talk on YouTube, given by Brother Phap Dung in Plum Village on July 29th, 2018. It was entitled: The Power of Cutting Off and Letting Go. (Here’s the link if you’re interested.)

How timely that it happened to correspond well with the reading I’d done earlier this morning from our Plum Village Chanting and Recitation Book.

Once a week, I read a different sutra from the chanting book. This morning I found myself reading the Discourse on the Dharma Seal, where it gives mention to the “three defiling qualities of mind – greed, hatred, and delusion.” Brother PD also spoke to this list in his talk, though he referred to them as the three afflictions and rephrased them a bit as: craving, anger, and ignorance.

He also spoke about the three virtues – also referred to as gauges – of a spiritual person and/or leader:

  1. Compassion
  2. Wisdom
  3. Freedom (or cutting off or cutting through)

Some things from the Brother’s talk that I scribed down while watching:

– We must re-envision our practice so that it includes all activities, not just certain ones or the ones we find pleasing; this is what Thay meant when he coined the phrase engaged Buddhism. (this is a paraphrase)

– “Be ordinary, don’t stick out. Don’t over-practice.” – Brother PD on the practice of washing the dishes

– “Buddhist practice is like medicine. It helps us, frees us, and then you don’t go holding on to it.”

– Sometimes, I wish I hadn’t met Thay and I think to myself: my life was so much easier before coming to this practice. So, you might want to go somewhere else (for spiritual practice), because in this practice tradition you have to look at things you might not want to look at. (paraphrase)

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Transitions

I’ve been investing intentional practice around the fact that my stepson is growing older and will soon be “out there,” left to his own devices, since even before he entered high school, so as not to not experience what I’ve heard so many parents of senior-year students speak to, in terms of being caught off guard and full of sorrow that their kids were all grown up and moving out. It seemed to me a rather implausible reality that a parent should feel so suddenly disjointed at the prospect of their child reaching a certain young-adult maturity level, as though they somehow didn’t see it coming all the years of their youth and moving out to start a life of their own wasn’t part of the deal.

But now I sorta get it.

Despite all my efforts to look deeply into the nature of impermanence and work to develop my practice in the art of letting go, just the other day I suddenly realized that my husband and I’s time with my 18-year old stepson is incredibly short. I did the math. Given how our residential schedule is lined out in our parenting plan – a schedule we’ve up-held diligently since he was at the tail end of first grade – we have a total of three remaining weeks with him until he graduates from high school, at which point he will be choosing to live full time with his mom and stepdad.

Just this morning I came across a lovely quote from Jack Kornfield on twitter, which states: To let go does not mean to get rid of. To let go means to let be. When we let be with compassion, things come and go on their own.

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Nirvana

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In any other context, aside from when referring to the band Nirvana (which I love), I don’t care for the word nirvana. Years of false societal conditioning have led me to paint this highly ridiculous concept of what nirvana means. When I come across the word nirvana, I imagine this pie-in-the-sky, ephemeral land where nothing bad ever happens, that one either enters after they die or when they become enlightened (which is another word I don’t care for). I imagine nirvana to be some kind of other-worldly place, where unicorns trot around and there’s never a cloud in the sky.

In actuality, nirvana means: the extinction of notions.

I’ve been working on this topic of nirvana for a teaching based talk that I am giving tonight at my local sangha, Be Here Now, which will be a joint talk with my husband Mike. He and I have been offering these joint talks now, once a year, since 2014. They afford us the opportunity to collaborate on Buddhist based teachings, which is something we’re invested in together as a couple. I find it especially enjoyable to work together with him given that he and I have different strong suits in how we think about, approach, and incorporate the practice into our lives. From a Buddhist psychology perspective, Mike is more skilled at approaching things from the ultimate dimension, whereas I am more skilled at approaching from the historical dimension. As both are equally important, our ability to join forces then has the potential to speak on a variety of levels to a wider variety of people. In short, the ultimate dimension is often referred to as being like the ocean (or the undercurrent which guides and propels life), with the historical dimension being like the waves (which is us, on an individual level) – while we are each a wave, we are also the ocean, comprised of the same water (or life force/energy) which connects us all.

(UPDATED POST: Here’s a link to the audio file from this talk that Mike & I gave on Monday evening, October 17th. http://www.openway.org/content/joint-talk-nirvana-mike-nicole)

When I think of what nirvana actually means, the extinction of notions, it helps me to connect more with this word when I come across it, instead of shirking away from it as some fictitious concept. However, we want to be careful not to get caught in the form of this teaching. Meaning, it would not be a wise goal to set for ourselves to become completely free of all notions, stories, judgments, and thoughts at some undisclosed time in the far off future. This isn’t realistic. Instead, we must use our own intelligence and discernment process to find ways of enfolding the teaching of nirvana into our everyday life, moment by moment.

How do we do this? How do we incorporate nirvana as a practice? What came up for me around this was to explain nirvana as follows:

Nirvana is an action based on the culmination of mindfulness, concentration, and insight.

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The Art of Pain Management

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A couple of months ago I was talking to a sangha friend of mine about the nature of physical pain.  Knowing that I’ve been focusing diligently on the cultivation of joy over the last few years and that I’ve experienced a great deal of physical pain in relation to my chronic illnesses he asked me specifically what I did to deal with pain and how to cultivate joy in the midst of it.  As I see this as a common struggle (knowing how to deal with ongoing physical pain, limitation, and illness) I thought I’d take to writing about it, as that often helps me to better understand things for myself as well.

It’s important to note that I spent years doing the “wrong” things when it came to dealing with physical pain.  Doing the wrong things was what helped me to know and understand what the right things to do were.  By wrong I mean I caused more harm to myself and those around me.  By wrong I mean I wasn’t taking good care of myself and was embittered with anger, sadness, loss, guilt, and hopelessness to the point of becoming debilitated and unpleasant to be around.

So what do I do now to embrace the difficult nature of physical pain and practice joy?  Let’s see..

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Holding On & Letting Go

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This little shell necklace picture above may not look like much.  It’s as simple as it looks: a shell dangled from a braided hemp rope.  What makes this picture interesting, to me, is that I’m holding it and not wearing it.  Let me explain.

When I was in high school, in my junior year I think it was, I went on a vacation with my dad and stepmom to Sanibel Island in Florida on the Gulf coast.  My uncle owned a condo right on the water.  I found the shell while taking an evening stroll on the beach one night.  Seeing the natural hole in it made it an obvious choice to turn it into a necklace.  Although I had never been a big jewelry wearer previously nor was I a devoted lover of shells (I mean, they’re great and all but I’m more of a rock gal) I proceeded to wear the necklace everyday….for the next 19 years.

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Minimalism

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For about 2 1/2 years now I’ve been wearing pretty much the same outfit everyday.  I have about four plain, green, long sleeve shirts and about four brown pairs of pants.  In the summer I have four plain, green, short sleeve shirts.  In addition to my regular garb I have some work clothes I keep around for gardening or changing the oil in my car, pajamas, a few layering items for when it’s really cold out, and a small handful of other clothing items.  I own three pairs of shoes: my brown crocs that I wear about 75-80% of the year, a pair of snow boots, and my motorcycle boots.  I don’t have a lot of clothing and I have all I need.

Yesterday I met with a friend for lunch who wanted to ask me about minimalism.  She’s starting a monthly group on the subject in a couple of weeks and wanted to chat about how I personally apply the concepts of minimalism in my own life.  While I had never thought of myself as a minimalist, per say, as we talked more about it and she asked me some questions I realized that I did fit the “profile” (of course there are many ways to practice minimalism and it can be adapted in different ways for different lifestyles).  Her first question was about how I limit the amount of belongings we have.  I responded by saying that my husband and I had a leg up, so to speak, in that our house is under 600 square feet with no basement and no attic, thereby naturally limiting the amount of space we have to collect things we don’t really need.  When you have a small house you have to use the space you do have creatively and efficiently, there’s simply no room for useless belongings and clutter.  The bigger your house is the more likely you will feel drawn to filling it up with stuff.

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