In one month from today,
I’ll turn forty.
Does that mean something?
I think it might.
I think it might mean
bidding a fond farewell to a decade of time
book-ended by zeros
and ushering in a new one,
as though it were a crisp,
unwrinkled, never worn gown
to slip into and dance on
endlessly into the night.
Everything that meant anything important
I’ve learned so far,
I’ve learned from unlearning something else.
Like how love means letting go
not holding on,
and a life filled with meaning
has little to do with money.
Or how kindness is a superpower
not a weakness,
and angling towards joy
doesn’t mean to ignore the darkness,
it means to not ignore the light.
I have inherited a body of knowledge
not my own –
a body of paper skin and earthen bones, too.
scarred, broken, perfect.
Did I mention perfect?
There is nothing on this splendid,
spinning, blue-green marble planet,
strung like a pearl on its cosmic necklace,
that wasn’t supposed to happen,
simply for the fact that it did.
If my years so far could be distilled
into one sentiment worth mentioning,
it would be this:
To live a well-contented life,
it’s crucial to stop fighting.
To stop fighting:
To stop fighting with the truth of how every single thing –
and every single one of us, our self included –
is of the nature to change.
Tag Archives: life
I know at times it feels dark and bleak
to encounter the news –
or another day, or life.
I know when you feel uncertain
it’s the best case scenario,
as the more common alternatives are
fear and anger
I know that sometimes you wonder
how things could possibly get any worse;
and then they do
and you feel broken
all over again.
I also know that raging beauty
and unbounded goodness
and decency exist –
not only out right for all to see
but buried like treasure in the hearts of men,
So please, dear ones,
take my hand,
and let us become miners
in search of it.
This has been one of my very favorite passages to read from our Plum Village chanting book as of late and I wanted to share it. A big thank you to my friends at the Still Water Sangha in Minnesota for posting this on their blog, so I didn’t have to type it all out myself :)
Excerpt from “Chanting from the Heart” by Thich Nhat Hanh
Sitting here in this moment, protected by the Sangha,
my happiness is clear and alive.
What a great fortune to have been born a human,
to encounter the Dharma,
to be in harmony of others,
and to water the Mind of Love
in this beautiful garden of practice.
The energies of the Sangha and mindfulness trainings
are protecting and helping me not make mistakes
or be swept along in darkness by unwholesome seeds.
With kind spiritual friends, I am on the path of goodness,
illuminated by the light of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas.
Although seeds of suffering are still in me
in the form of afflictions and habit energies,
mindfulness is also there, helping me touch
what is most wonderful within and around me.
I can still enjoy mindfulness of the six senses:
my eyes look peacefully upon the clear blue sky,
my ears listen with wonder to the songs of birds,
my nose smells the rich scent of sandalwood,
my tongue tastes the nectar of the Dharma,
my posture is upright, stable and relaxed,
and my mind is one with my body.
If there were not a World-Honored One,
if there were not the wonderful Dharma,
if there were not a harmonious Sangha,
I would not be so fortunate
to enjoy this Dharma happiness today.
My resources for practice are my own peace and joy.
I vow to cultivate and nourish them with daily mindfulness.
For my ancestors, family, future generations,
and the whole of humanity, I vow to practice well.
In my society I know that there are countless people suffering,
drowned in sensual pleasure, jealousy, and hatred.
I am determined to take care of my own mental formations,
to learn the art of deep listening and using loving speech
in order to encourage communication and understanding
and to be able to accept and love.
Practicing the actions of a bodhisattva,
I vow to look with eyes of love and a heart of understanding.
I vow to listen with a clear mind and ears of compassion,
bringing peace and joy unto the lives of others,
to lighten and alleviate the suffering of living beings.
I am aware that ignorance and wrong perceptions
can turn this world into a fiery hell.
I vow to walk always upon the path of transformation,
producing understanding and loving kindness.
I will be able to cultivate a garden of awakening.
Although there are birth, sickness, old age, and death,
now I have a path of practice, I have nothing more to fear.
It is a great happiness to be alive in the Sangha
with the practice of mindfulness trainings and concentration,
to live every moment in stability and freedom
to take part in the work of relieving others’ suffering,
the career of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas.
In each precious moment, I am filled with deep gratitude.
I bow before the World-Honored One.
Please bear witness to my wholehearted gratitude,
embracing all beings with arms of great compassion.
It feels worth mentioning that last night, I had my first backyard fire of the year. And it also seems worth haikuing about:
Flames licking wood
Chilled air breathing fire
A smile is lit
Last weekend, I was off on a solo saunter up north – and I enjoyed every bit of my travels.
This weekend, I set myself up so that I had zero cause to leave the house if I didn’t want to – and I’ve been enjoying every bit of it.
We invoke your name, Kshitigarbha. We aspire to learn your way of being present where there is darkness, suffering, oppression, and despair, so we can bring light, hope, relief, and liberation to those places. We are determined not to forget about or abandon those in desperate situations. We will do our best to establish contact with those who cannot find a way out of their suffering, those whose cries for help, justice, equality, and human rights are not being heard. We know that hell can be found in many places on Earth. We will do our best not to contribute to creating more hells on Earth, and to help transform the hells that already exist. We will practice in order to realize the qualities of perseverance and stability, so that, like the Earth, we can always be supportive and faithful to those in need.
The first thing that comes up for me around this verse is that as practitioners, we must be deeply in touch with our own self, in order to determine where our balance is in regards to being in touch with those who suffer. Learning and practicing to take good care of our self must be the first priority. If we attempt to try to be in touch with the suffering of others but are personally experiencing an imbalance of mind/body/spirit, it would not be beneficial to the other person or to our self. I think this is implied in this verse, however it is not directly addressed or spoken to.
There are many ways to be in touch with those who suffer. As the Fourth of the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings, entitled: Awareness of Suffering, states: …We are committed to finding ways, including personal contact and using telephone, electronic, audiovisual, and other means, to be with those who suffer…
For my own practice of staying in touch with the suffering of others, I volunteer with hospice and meet with patients every week; I intentionally watch documentaries that are centered around heart-heavy topics or that highlight hardship stories; I read news articles that are especially challenging and difficult to read, centered around trauma, mental illness, and matters concerning inequality; and I currently have a pen pal in prison who I stay in close contact with via letters. And, I am careful not to engage in such documentaries/news stories when I am not feeling well-balanced and stable in mind and heart. So I practice to stay in close relationship with myself, as some days I need to focus more on self-care and wellness vs. being in touch with the suffering of someone else. So for me it’s important to routinely and continually check in with myself, so that I know what I have to offer and when. It’s very easy to over-extend myself in this regard – and to put tending to others above my own self-care.
One of my guiding life mottos that I remind myself often of is: There is only so much time in the day. In relation to this verse on being present where there is darkness, it means that I must be careful not to get caught thinking that I need to step into ALL the darkness, ALL the ares of oppression, suffering, and despair. I used to have a world savior complex back in my teens and early 20’s – activism-minded – and I am not interested in reverting back to that.
I also find it really helpful to keep fresh in mind how wonderful it is that we have a world filled with so many people who gravitate towards different areas of need. I am only one person – and there’s both a lot I can do and only so much I can do. We all dig the well in different spots – and thank goodness for that.
1. How would you summarize this verse in your own words?
We aspire to do our best not to turn a blind eye towards matters of suffering and to keep our own practice strong, in order to be of support to others.
2. What do you see as being your own strengths and weaknesses in relation to the qualities of this Bodhisattva?
Strength: I feel as though I do pretty well in practicing to stay in touch with matters concerning suffering while also keeping an eye on my own balance, so as not to over-extend myself. For the most part I know what my limits are. Weakness: Sometimes I try to offer support to friends who are really struggling but I do so with an energy of “I’m going to save them!” and it isn’t what is most beneficial to them – or to me. People who are suffering may not be ready to transform and heal, no matter how much I may want to help them. Sometimes I can push too much. I recently watched a talk by a doctor as part of an online wellness summit and he said that his motto is to help only those who are swimming towards him, verses trying to go after all the people he saw and felt were struggling but ultimately weren’t ready to start healing. He said when he used to do that, it was a waste of time and energy, for him and the other person. I can still get stuck in trying to help those who aren’t swimming towards me.
3. What is something you’ve gleaned by reflecting on this Bodhisattva this past week?
What came up for me was the reminder of how important it is to 1. Be in close relationship with myself in order to know where my limits are in regards to delving into matters of injustice, suffering, and the desperate situations of others, so as not to lose myself and become overwhelmed and 2. To diligently dig the well in the places I can and know that I cannot dig all the wells in all the places; to draw from the Serenity Prayer: to accept the things I cannot change, have the courage to change the things that I can, and develop the wisdom to know the difference.
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.
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.
Immensely inspired by a video interview I watched this morning, as part of a free Wellness Summit happening online right now, entitled: How to Set Yourself Free From Pain & Misery, with Dr. Sean Stephenson, I was called to craft this post focused on my own personal daily rituals.
In Dr. Stephenson’s interview, he said: I have 16 rituals and if I don’t do at least 4 of them every day, my insecurities will eat me alive.
He said a lot more that’s worth mentioning – I took over 5 pages of notes during the 60-minute video! – but there is much greater value for you, my friends, in watching it yourself (click on link above). It is one of the very best mindfulness-based talks I have ever seen.
So rather than using this post to relay all of my notes, I will instead focus on sharing my daily rituals, which isn’t new for me to do here on my blog but has perhaps been a little while since last I did.
Nicole’s DAILY Rituals (for Self-Care and Cultivating Ease, Joy, and Solidity)
Waking up early enough to enjoy a period of time connecting with myself, amid the graces of quietude and slowness
Writing (if even only a little bit)
Gratitude practice (which I created myself and involves certain verses I say each morning, along with prostrations to the earth)
Saying a connection/gratitude verse before I eat each meal
Watering my seed of joy, with intentional skillful effort
Guarding well my sensory input (TV/films, music, books, magazines, conversations, social media, news…)
Resting (which for me typically comes in the form of taking a nap every day; even on the days I work, as soon as I get home around 4:00, the first thing I do is lay down to take a short nap before preparing dinner)
Maintain consistency with when I eat each meal: breakfast, lunch, and dinner
Wake up at the same time every day (5:00am) and go to bed around the same time each night (between 9-10pm)
Nicole’s WEEKLY Rituals (for Self-Care and Cultivating Ease, Joy, and Solidity)
Attend sangha every Monday night
Participate in my self-crafted Mindful Morning Saturday practice
Watch a Dharma talk and/or mindfulness-based teaching video online
Spend time dancing and exercising
Devoting one morning (usually Sundays) to Lazy Morning practice
Nicole’s YEARLY Rituals (for Self-Care and Cultivating Ease, Joy, and Solidity)
Attend our two locally held and organized mindfulness retreats with my extended Montana sangha family
Prioritize solo sojourns
Spend extended, concentrated time on personal retreat (or amid other practice-related spells of personal quietude)
Attend local days of mindfulness and special practice events hosted by our sister sanghas as much as possible