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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New study about mindfulness apps

There I was in my car, on the way to visit a hospice patient yesterday morning, when I stumbled across a DJ on the radio talking about meditation. He was chatting up the findings of a recent study about mindfulness apps and cell phone games, declaring, in his own words, that participants in the study who meditated felt worse the more they meditated, whereas the game players felt better and more relaxed. His conclusion: playing games on your cell phone will leave you feeling relaxed and meditation is over-rated.

Um…what?

I decided to look up the study. Not only am I disappointed with the DJ’s account of the study but I am also unimpressed with the study itself, as it fails to take into account actual meditation/mindfulness practitioners. The study focuses instead on newbies to mindfulness and gives them only an app by which to learn from and practice with.

To be clear, I have nothing against cell phone games. However, I also find little benefit in playing the comparison game, as in: Digital games may beat mindfulness apps at relieving stress, new study shows, which is the name of an article I found when looking up the study.

In my view, there can be benefits to using the mindfulness apps and there can be benefits of playing cell phone games. Why they need to be compared and judged better/worse, I don’t know.

What I do know is that while I am a big proponent of teaching & using mindfulness in a secular fashion – even though for me personally it’s a spiritual path – there are ways to approach mindfulness that can be more harmful than helpful, when it comes to laypeople wielding it around with little understanding and experience. There is such a thing as over-secularizing, where mindfulness is stripped down to the fast-food approach to living. When mindfulness is used as a gimmick to reduce stress in acute situations, I’m not sure there’s a whole lot of potential for benefit.

To experience the fruits of mindfulness and/or meditation – such as ease and relaxation – it must become an active, engaged, and ongoing practice. When comparing mindfulness apps to digital games to see which has the power to relax more people after work, it makes total sense to me that the participants felt more stress relief after playing a game. People who are approaching mindfulness or meditation with a quick-fix mentality are going to be disheartened with it in short order. There’s a reason most people do not stick with meditation as a mainstay in their daily lives. It’s freakin hard. And it takes a number of things that most of us are not very interested or invested in, such as: patience, self-reflection, diligence, will-power, openness, and an ability to be with our own self, without distracting or distancing our attention from the here and now.

Most of us have no idea how to spend time with our self. We’re not comfortable in our own skin. And if we’re not comfortable in our own skin, then of course being tossed into a mindfulness app just for the sake of a study has the great potential to produce a less than ideal outcome.

Mindfulness and the practice of meditation is not a quick-fix sort of deal. It’s not even a long-term fix sort of deal. Mindfulness and meditation aren’t about fixing what’s “broken” in our lives. The daily practices of mindfulness and the practice of sitting meditation are about being with what is happening in the here and now – and once we can be with it, then we can start the work of understanding, accepting, and embracing.

Please do not make the same mistake as the morning shock jock made on our local radio station yesterday, concluding that meditation is bunk. If you’re truly interested in enfolding meditation or mindfulness into your life, it’s worth finding a sangha or a qualified teacher or, at the least, highly respected books or online resources in which to learn and get support from.

There’s nothing wrong with approaching mindfulness in a secular fashion, using it as a possible tool to reduce stress and feelings of overwhelm, just be sure you’re not looking for quick-fix solutions to long-term or ongoing challenges, as that has a high likelihood for being a recipe for disaster.

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.”

Go Kind

This post is me attempting to relay a case and point in the most skillful way possible. And as I am actively investigating the importance of understanding the differences between INTENTION and IMPACT, I put value in not sharing too much in the way of specific details here, so as to do my best to protect the identity of the particular person I’ll be highlighting because even though my intention is good, I’m aware I may still create a negative impact on this individual or those who know of this local band/singer.

Yesterday afternoon, I attended a locally held outdoor event with live music. As the first band started to play their first song, a woman came on the scene from stage left. From her looks, energy, and swagger, it appeared highly likely that she was a homeless resident of Missoula. She was also yelling violently to herself as she approached. She then proceeded to yell obscenities at the band up close.

Now, to me it was clear to anyone paying an even modicum amount of attention, that this woman was mentally un-well, sadly unbalanced, and suffering greatly. However, I realized in short order that I might very well be the only one on site that saw the unfolding situation this way.

During the song, as the woman was front and center yelling at the band, the lead singer called out sternly over the mic: “Can someone get this f***ing lady out of here?!” As I considered a possible action I myself could take to help diffuse the situation, she wound up moving along on her own accord and that was that.

When the song ended, the front man/lead singer gave us an account of what transpired between them and the woman. He told us what she was saying and how she was yelling specifically at him. His takeaway was that she clearly didn’t like him. He also said something to the effect of how everyone was welcome at the event but that we were all gathering in peace and love and that woman was not acting in accordance with the vibe being created and had to go. Before striking up their next song, he said: “We’re just gonna keep singing and spreading the love.”

I thought to myself: Hmm. Interesting. So, not only did he take the random woman’s yelling as a personal affront to his character but he also saw fit to curse at her, criticize her publicly, and then declare that he’s invested in spreading the love?

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Simple Things

I want excitement
to be born from
simple things.

Like being presented
with another day
to live and breathe
and sing.

Or knowing how very fortunate
I am
to have all the
luxuries of life:
running water
ready access to food
electricity
shelter
and countless modern conveniences.

I want excitement
to not be hinged on
having to go someplace
or do something
or be someone
in particular.

I want excitement
to bubble up
from the deep cauldron
of my heart,
for the wondrous miracle to
be
here
now.

This is my aspiration;
my practice;
my winding path
through the thicket of collective hardships
and planetary throng of woes.

– penned today, July 10th, 2019, around 6am

Cultivating Joy

Image credit: http://everybodyhasabrain.com/the-five-remembrances/

Because of the simple fact that we are of the nature to grow old, have ill heath, and die – and because everyone and everything we cherish is of the nature to change – cultivating joy is imperative, if we have the desire to live a well-contented life. The consequences of cultivating joy is a life lived with intention, connection, and heart.

When the quality of joy is nourished and strengthened in the open field of our internal landscape, the ground on which we stand becomes a fertile place for other beneficial seeds to grow alongside of it. Seeds such as: patience, ease, understanding, compassion, empathy, kindness, gratitude, humility, and equanimity. When we water the seed of joy, these nearby companion seeds also get watered.

When our seed of joy is not well tended to, we are liable to go man overboard into the ocean of suffering when we find our self in the turbulent waters of: stress, upset, anger, jealousy, sorrow, a bad day, unpleasant encounters, or unfavorable conditions of any kind.

Indications – like a low-fuel light on the dash – that your seed of joy is under-nourished:

  • On a regular basis, after engaging with the news, you feel overwhelmed, cynical, hopeless, deflated, and/or pissed off.
  • You give more street cred to suffering than to joy, discounting those who you deem to be happy and doing well as being in denial of the “real” state of affairs.
  • You feel affronted/mistreated by others in a variety of settings on a daily or regular basis.
  • You continually sit in judgement of others, for a myriad of reasons; are constantly annoyed and disappointed by others; are caught in the comparison game, always measuring yourself up against others.
  • Small things set you off on an inner or outer tirade of cynicism/frustration/impatience/anger/fight mode.
  • You see the doom & gloom of situations most readily and have a negative spin on most people & places you encounter.
  • You smile infrequently, if at all.
  • You routinely feel exhausted and burnt out; depleted; spent.

We’re all familiar with the ways in which to care well for our physical health but what about our mental health? Mental health is just as important as our physical health. And cultivating joy is the best way I have found to nourish, bolster, and fertilize my mental health. Well balanced and well nurtured physical health + well balanced and well nurtured mental health = optimal well-being.

Fruits that develop from ongoingly and continually cultivating a strong seed of joy:

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Birthday Day

Soft rain falling at 5:30am.
40-years ago today I was born,
head first into an air and water world
that agreed without being asked –
without question –
to take me on,
for however long:
40, 50, 70, 90 years.

Who knows?
No one.
No matter.

This day is really all that matters.
Just like when tomorrow comes,
that day will be all that matters.

This day, with its arm extended and hand open
in everyone’s direction, all at once,
ready to guide us, one soft step at a time,
along whatever path we’re traveling.
Ready to go neck deep into the throngs of the urban jungle, hand-in-hand, if we so choose.

Ready to love a little more with us; sing the duet of sorrow with us; drop to its knees in prayer with us.

Ready to keep up with us in good company.

Ready to take us on.