May I Be Useful, May I Be Kind

Every morning, I end my sitting meditation session with a short gratitude practice involving three gratitude-infused prostrations to the earth and then I stand and do one final standing bow, where I say inwardly to myself:

In gratitude for this one more opportunity to live today,

may I be useful, may I be kind.

I fashioned the Zen enso in the pic above using a newly acquired calligraphy pen and a super thick Sharpie.

In early December, I posted this pic on my home sangha’s Facebook page (Be Here Now Community) where, to date, it has “reached” 1,556 people. Of the 72 people who clicked on an emoji for the post: 71 people either liked or loved it and 1 person chose the sad icon. The person who was saddened by the post, commented: Can I be un-useful…..? So I am not good enough as I am….? 😢💔

I chose not to respond to this person’s comment, as I didn’t feel that a FB comment reply would be a skillful way to have any sort of meaningful dialog take place, and would likely only serve to create more confusion. However, I really appreciated this person’s comment; it’s been a subject of mild reflection for me ever since. I greatly appreciate learning how people hear and receive the Dharma. It helps me to better understand where people are coming from and to perhaps make adjustments in how I might share the Dharma with others, as someone who is highly invested in doing my best to unpack certain elements of the teachings that can often and easily be misunderstood or left unclear.

My reflections centered around this person’s comment include: if I was asked this question in person, what would I have said?; what message do I think they received from my post?; how can I flesh this out more?; how might I respond in such a way that won’t be more damaging or add further to this person’s confusion/sorrow?

Continue reading

New Practices for 2020

Soon we bid farewell to one year in welcome of another. Soon we turn over the calendar, the decade; archiving it in the folds of yesterday’s memory.

And as is custom for me, I will leave behind the specialty mindfulness-strengthening exercises I started this past January and replace them with new ones to carry with me through the year, as a way to help keep my practice fresh and alive.

Each January, I pick up 2 or 3 new mindfulness-based practices, and lay down the ones from the previous year. In 2019, I adopted two new practices: 1. an Angst & Impatience tick-mark chart in my car, which I used diligently when driving and 2. 52-Weeks of Thank You’s.

Starting on January 1st, I’ll be picking up 3 new practices: 1. reading & practicing with one card a week from Thay’s deck of 108 meditation cards (recently published; see pic below) 2. transferring the Angst & Impatience chart for use when I’m on my laptop and 3. writing one haiku per day (or perhaps one per week, if doing it on the daily proves to be too much).

Continue reading

Yep, here i am talking about gratitude…again

Gratitude is one of my favorite subjects. One of my favorite practices to engage with and invest time and energy into. One of my favorite mindfulness-related skillsets to delve more into and unpack. Gratitude is both in and of itself a virtue to continually nourish and strengthen and it’s also a gateway to other beneficial unfoldings.

Gratitude has many other companion seeds in the garden of life. When we water the seed of gratitude, we’re also watering the seeds of: joy, kindness, resiliency, equanimity, understanding, compassion, and ease.  I’ve stated in the past and stand by it: in my view, if we chose only one practice to nourish and develop, gratitude would be more than enough.

Given my affinity for the practice and development of gratitude, I especially delight in the moments when I stumble across insights from teachers or info from articles in regards to gratitude.

“What is the one thing that people who can fully lean into joy have in common? Gratitude. They practice gratitude. It’s not an “attitude of gratitude” – it’s an actual practice. They keep a journal, or make a note of what they’re grateful for on their phones, or share it with family members…

Embodying and practicing gratitude changes everything.”

Brené Brown, from Dare to Lead, pg. 83

 

And just today, I came across a link to an article in my twitter feed that said:

“Over Thanksgiving, in between mouthfuls of turkey and sweet potato pie, many of us will be asking ourselves: What are we grateful for?

Taking a moment to practice gratitude like this isn’t an empty holiday tradition. It’s good for our mental and physical health. And here’s another thing: It can actually change our brains in ways that make us more altruistic.

The past two decades have seen a flurry of research on gratitude, beginning in the early 2000s with a series of landmark papers by Robert Emmons, Michael McCullough, and other psychologists. In recent years, we’ve learned through several scientific studies that there’s a deep neural connection between gratitude and giving — they share a pathway in the brain — and that when we’re grateful, our brains become more charitable.”

– from Giving thanks may make your brain more altruistic: Neuroscience is revealing a fascinating link between gratitude and generosity

Continue reading

The Second Dharma Seal: Nonself (2 of 2)

(In this post, anything in quotation marks will be from The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching by Thich Nhat Hanh, as I’ll be referencing it throughout this post.)

This is part 2 of a two-part post.

“The Second Dharma Seal is nonself. Nothing has a separate existence or a separate self. Everything has to inter-be with everything else.”

My husband Mike and I recently had a conversation on whether/how nonself differed or was synonymous with interbeing. He came up with a great metaphor (no surprise – he has a true gift for creating metaphors.). He said: Nonself (aka a separate self) is what our cup is empty of; interbeing is what it’s full of. Brilliant!

My own working definition of nonself, as it differs but is related closely and is inseparable from interbeing: the more I come to see clearly my nonself nature – that I am a collage of an endless stream of causes and conditions – the more my insight of interbeing blooms and flourishes.

“Nonself is not a doctrine or a philosophy. It is an insight that can help us live life more deeply, suffer less, and enjoy life much more. We need to live the insight of nonself.”

“Nonself means that you are made of elements which are not you.”

Once again, how do we practice with this Dharma Seal so that we aren’t at risk of intellectualizing this teaching to a detriment?

Here’s what I came up with for myself.

Continue reading

Loving Kindness Practice

While sitting in meditation this morning, I fashioned this verse for myself:

May I experience moments of ease today.

May I experience moments of joy today.

May I experience moments of gratitude today.

May I experience moments of solidity today.

May I experience moments of letting go today,
allowing the river of life to flow through me,
without erecting dams or putting up obstacles
in its path.

Filling the tank

In the wake of an especially difficult past two weeks, I’ve been upping my self-care practices and allowing myself to take some necessary time and space by pulling back from a few things.

Here are a few of my main go-to’s for self-care when I start getting depleted:

  1.  Sleep & rest. I allow myself to sleep more at night and rest more via naps during the day.
  2. Music. From listening to what I most enjoy to dancing it out in my living room to playing guitar and singing, my day is guided by music, and even moreso when I am physically taxed or emotionally challenged.
  3. Delicious & nutritious food. While I am closely tuned into what I consume and keep up a steady dose of wholesome, nourishing foods, I also allow myself to partake in comfort foods. Life is about balance and I practice to not to be too strict OR too lenient in my food choices when I’m struggling.
  4. Tuning out. When my cup is empty and I’ve worn myself out thinking and talking about a challenge, I practice to notice when it’s time to call a time out. Tuning out to a funny show on Netflix is sometimes in order. Again, life is about cultivating and maintaining balance. And in times of struggle, I practice to give myself some slack – but not too much slack – when it comes to watching TV.
  5. Getting outside. Being outside, whether in wild places such as the woods or simply for a walk around the block, helps restore my energy and refill my mental and emotional tank. Even if it’s a bit of a chore, when I push myself a little bit in order to get outside, I’m always glad I did once I get out there.
  6. Self-expression. On a regular and ongoing basis, my medium for self-expression comes through the art of writing. Even if I’m not feeling terribly inspired to write, I need to keep picking up the pen. If I stop writing when I’m struggling, I’m in trouble.
  7. Knowing when to reach out and who to reach out to. This is key. Reaching out for support is not a sign of weakness or defeat. In fact, asking for support is a sign of strength and resiliency. It’s also important to know who I can trust in to hold space for me and who I can really rely on when the going gets tough.
  8. Keeping my practice going. By practice I am referring to my daily sitting meditation practice and my daily mindfulness practices. If I let my daily morning sit slide off, it will effect my foundation for the rest of the day. Even when it’s hard and I don’t feel like doing it – even when the quality of my sit is poor – I keep on sitting. And I keep investing in: my daily gratitude practice; reciting my meal verse; pausing to take a breath when my home mindfulness bell chimes; smiling practice; cultivating joy; and tuning into my breath, body, and feelings throughout the day.
  9. Taking a break. This takes many forms. When my energy is waning and my internal gas tank is low, I often take a break from reading the news, so that I am not further depleting myself. I often take a break from participating in meetings or events that are taxing and/or have an element of difficulty embedded into them. And I will sometimes take a break from social gatherings or other such gatherings where I might be otherwise energetically dispersed.

These are some of the ways I restore harmony within myself. If you feel called to share what you do to help replenish and restore, I’d really enjoy hearing from you in the comments section below.

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.