Offering incense in the dark of early morning
I’m not sure how long ago I started this practice I call Mindful Morning Saturday, maybe a year or so. I’ve posted about it before but I was inspired to post about it again, simply because it’s adds so much benefit, energy, and joyfulness to my weekend.
As an ordained OI member (Order of Interbeing), I am asked to partake in a certain amount of Days of Mindfulness every year – 60, to be precise. And this particular OI requirement often poses some head scratching for folks, both before and after they ordain. True to form, we are not given any specifics as to how to manifest this and are left instead to use our own intelligence and insight in developing our own relationship with how to put this into active practice.
I ordained in 2007. For the first few years after that, I simply continued to attend our locally held retreats twice a year, as well as any locally held special events and days of mindfulness organized by my sangha. Then, in 2014, I started going on retreat to Deer Park Monastery for 3-4 weeks at a time every January. So for the past five years I’ve been closer than ever before, in terms of meeting the required 60 days of mindfulness.
For years, I’d wanted to figure out a way to insert a Day of Mindfulness into my home life routine once a week but I hadn’t known a good way to do it. I think like many of us OI members who are perplexed by this requirement of ordination, I was caught in thinking that a Day of Mindfulness had to be a WHOLE entire day, which seemed impossible if I was interested in doing it every week.
Then, just last year I think it was, I started thinking about the Days of Mindfulness I would participate in while I was staying at Deer Park. Most Sundays at Deer Park are an open Day of Mindfulness, where folks are welcome and encouraged to come to the monastery for a day of practice. The Days of Mindfulness there generally start at 9:00am and end after lunch, around 1:00pm. They aren’t a WHOLE entire day. They typically last about 4-hours. Once I realized this, I started thinking about my own 60 Days of Mindfulness differently.
One morning a week – Saturdays to be precise – I eat my morning’s breakfast un-distracted and un-hurried.
With the exception of this one meal per week, I eat accompanied by such things as music and/or my laptop.
On Saturday morning’s, however, I take the time to connect more deeply with the bounty of food I am so richly afforded.
I eat in silence, with posture upright and solid.
I inhale the many causes and conditions that factored into its being with every bite.
And in the span of my meal time, I am transported around the globe.
Then, with senses in full bloom, I re-embody myself and come back home, fresh and new.
2018 Deer Park Daily Musings
Written during a retreat I attended from January 5th-26th, 2018
Background Info & Terminology: Deer Park Monastery is rooted in the mindfulness tradition of Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh and is situated in Escondido, CA, north of San Diego.
Laypeople: Also called lay friends or laymen and laywomen; those of us who practice in this tradition but are not monks or nuns.
Monastics: The collective group of both monks and nuns.
Clarity Hamlet: Where the nuns, also called Sisters, reside. Laywomen stay here as well.
Solidity Hamlet: Where the monks, also called Brothers, reside. Laymen and couples/families stay here as well.
Thay: Refers to Thich Nhat Hanh, meaning “teacher” in Vietnamese
Friday, January 19th 2018
Early morning haiku:
I hear coyotes
calling out in the darkness
still no moon outside
Friday. Another arrival and departure day. Our friends from Missoula, Peter and Elli, left today. Some others left, too, and some new folks have come. A stirring up of our little hamlet has taken place!
We had working meditation at 9:00am and as there was little for us to volunteer for in the way of assignments, I was Mike’s helper on a couple of projects he’s been tending to. He is a great asset here in terms of his skilled abilities for being able to fix/repair/build/figure out anything in the handyman realm. The Brothers will be sad to see him go! :)
Written on Saturday June 17th, 2017
A few years ago, a university student, who was sitting with our sangha at the time, asked if she could do a video project of me on the topic of meditation for a journalism class she was taking. One of the questions she prompted me with on camera was to fill in the blank: Meditation is like ______. I said: Meditation is like stepping out into the first light of spring. It was simply the first thing that came to mind. Well, today has felt this way, too. It has been the loveliest of days. I feel light, refreshed, nourished, peaceful, and contented. What great fruits this practice brings!
It’s worth mentioning that while I did come up with a schedule to serve as a foundation for this weekend, I also intended on going with the flow of the day and following my intuition. Here’s what today wound up looking like:
5:30am Wake up
5:30-7:00am Sip tea, write, watch the morning sky
7:00am Sitting meditation
7:30am Sutra service
8:00am Stick exercises
9:15-10:30am Dharma talk video
10:30-11:15am Outdoor walking
11:30-12:15pm Yoga (using guided video)
12:15-12:45pm Picnic lunch outside
2:00-4:00pm Sip tea, write, calligraphy, read
4:00pm Sitting meditation
4:30pm Sutra service
6:15-6:45pm Outdoor walking & sage picking
7:00-9:00pm Journal typing
Written on Friday June 16th, 2017
The idea of doing a solo retreat has been a brewing interest of mine for a little while now. Then, after going to Deer Park Monastery for three-weeks this past January, my percolating idea bubbled up with a newfound vigor. So I emailed a few well-chosen friends who I thought might have some ideas of a place to go where I could be relatively secluded, surrounded by nature, and left to my own devices.
I’ve long been wanting to stay in one of the handful of local fire towers that’ve been converted to a reservable getaway destination spot, but I soon found out that those are in high demand and already fully booked up for the season, which makes sense. (Note to self: book early for next year!)
A sangha friend generously offered me the use of her and her husband’s cabin about an hour from town, which is where I’ve landed and am currently typing from. I arrived here, amid spectacular rolling sage-covered foothills, around 4:30 this afternoon. After finding my way around the house and unpacking the car, I set to making dinner, which I intentionally kept simple: a pre-made salad and a bowl of vegetarian chili, made and sold by our local organic market The Good Food Store, which I picked up this morning.
Here are some things I’m working to integrate into my daily life after returning home from being on retreat at Deer Park Monastery:
1. When I brush my teeth my usual tendency is to do other things while brushing my teeth (which is often quite comical, because I’ll attempt to do all kinds of things that have no business in trying to be accomplished in the midst of brushing my teeth!), so I’m practicing to stay put while brushing my teeth and not roam around the house.
2. When I was at Deer Park I came up with two new morning verses I would say to myself upon waking up each day, and I’m wanting to continue with them:
Waking up, my smile greets a fresh new day
and, when first rising out of bed, As my feet touch the ground, may I rise with intention, like the sun
3. I came up with this meal verse (to say internally to myself once I was finished eating) when I first went to Deer Park on extended retreat 4 years ago. It’s been something I’ve done at every meal while at Deer Park each January but haven’t carried home with me in my daily life, which I’d like to remedy. After eating verse:
This bowl (or plate) was just filled with wonderful, nutritious, delicious food. May I take the energy and nourishment it provides me and transform it into ____, _____, and ______ on my path of practice today.
For the fill-in-the-blank spots, I list three components that make sense to me for that particular moment and time of day. So, for instance, after breakfast I might use the words: mindfulness, ease, and joy, and after dinner I might say: rest, release, and self-care.
Developing fresh, new ways in which to incorporate mindfulness into my everyday life not only helps to support my transition back into the wonderful flow of daily living but also enables me to cultivate and strengthen my seeds of mindfulness, stability, and connection. Because the journey of being human and navigating this world, which is “beautiful and absurd and small” (as Ani Difranco sings in one her songs), as always and ever, continues on, flowing as a river, perpetually shifting and changing.
It’s been 2 or 3 years now since I gave up what I call “dessert sugar.” Funny, how I’m not sure how long it’s been. Funny how it doesn’t even really matter. When looking back, individual years acquire a different sort of time stamp in our memory, which dramatically lessens the significance one experienced while actively living it.
I’ve been a life-long sugar addict. One for whom chocolate and cookies stir a deep adoration no other food product comes close to matching. Those were my DOC’s (drugs of choice): chocolate and cookies. On the addiction scale I’d say I was somewhere in the middle of the spectrum, edging my way over the line into the “Danger, Will Robinson” zone.
I came up with the “dessert sugar” phrasing in an effort to find a quick way to explain myself in response to the inevitable quizzical look that would follow after turning down a sugar filled offering. Apparently, people often find it curious when someone doesn’t partake in sweets, which is similar to what used to happen when I would decline libations before I fashioned a largely sober friend base. It would be easier for people to understand if I were, say, a diabetic trying to watch my carb intake, or an alcoholic on the wagon, but as someone who chooses to voluntarily avoid both substances, I become the equivalent of a talking unicorn found serendipitously in the woods on a long hike.
“Dessert sugars” mean just that. They refer to the eats one would commonly consider a dessert product: cookies, cake, brownies, ice cream, pie, and anything having to do with chocolate. If I weren’t limited to explaining myself in the time frame of someone’s minuscule attention span, I would further add that I’ve given up both dessert sugars and junk-food sugars. Junk-food sugars being: candy, breakfast pastries, funnel cake, sugary cereals, and anything else one tends to eat large quantities of and is socially allowed to have at any hour of the day. For a reason I have yet to pin down, I feel it necessary to report to anyone who’ll listen about how I’m not foregoing ALL types of sugar, just the sort that might trigger my particular proclivities. I continue to eat fruit and granola bars most every day. I even drink juice, un-caffeinated sodas, and sweet tea every so often. I guess I just don’t want people to get the wrong idea and wind up stewing in a falsely held judgement about how I’m a hypocritical wind-bag, when next they spot me sipping on a smoothie.
An image I put together as a handout for my class on the topic of mindful eating
As part of the mindfulness and meditation series I’ve been teaching our next class will be, in part, about mindful eating. So once again I’m taking to my blog to write out some ideas as to what I’ll say in regards to this topic.
Just as there is no one right way to be mindful about anything really, there is no one right way to practice mindful eating. In any given moment we have the opportunity to direct our attention in a myriad of different ways that would all classify under the umbrella of mindfulness (hence the image I put together above :). For instance, when we sit down to eat a meal we could practice mindfulness by looking deeply into the food in front of us. We could become inquisitive and ponder questions about where our food came from and do our best to imagine all of the causes and conditions that went into its creation. We could use our mindfulness to get in touch with the energy inherit in our food and how it wouldn’t be possible without the sun, soil, and water. We could tune into our senses taking special notice of the textures, smells, taste, feel, and colors. We could connect with our gratitude for the gift of food we are afforded, knowing that many people will not have enough to eat today. Or we could practice by slowing down and putting our undivided attention on the process of eating, instead of hurrying through a meal or multi-tasking while eating. And if we spent our meal time simply practicing to enjoy our food and have a pleasant time while eating that would certainly be a wonderful way to water our seeds of mindfulness as well.
Last year I began offering what I call teaching talks (I’m careful not to use the term dharma talk since I’m not a dharma teacher) at my local sangha. Not too frequently, as I don’t want to turn my sangha into the Nicole show, but a couple times a year seems doable. I’m scheduled to give a talk in mid-September and I’ve decided the topic will be on gratitude. So, much like my recent post on August 27th, I’m using my blog as an opportunity to write out what I’ll talk about in order to help me process and filter through some ideas. Here goes…
I’m a volunteer with hospice and currently meet with a woman who’s 100 years old. As a hospice volunteer our primary role is to to visit with patients socially and simply spend time as a friend. This particular woman has great long term memory and has told me stories from when she was as young as three years old, in 1918. However, she has very poor short term memory and often tells me the same things and asks the same questions over and over again in the span of our visits together. When telling me about her upbringing or married life she’ll often stop mid-sentence and lean in a little closer to me from her wheelchair and say, “You know, I’ve had such a great life. I am so grateful. I had great parents, a great brother and sister, and a great husband and kids.” I can tell she’s really connecting with her gratitude when she reiterates these words to me. The spirit and energy of gratitude is alive within her and radiates outwards when she talks about it – I can see it in her eyes. Her strong sense of gratitude is what ties all of her memories together – and if I had to guess it’s also part of what allowed her the capacity to live to reach 100 years old with many of her faculties about her.
Gratitude is often undervalued as a practice to cultivate in order to live a happier, healthier life. Our ability to experience gratitude is one of the determining factors in our overall quality of life. Developing a daily practice of gratitude is not only helpful but necessary if we have a desire to make the most of each moment and live with more joy and ease. Learning how to be present in the here and now and strengthen our mindfulness practice requires a certain amount of gratitude – if we are not able to connect with how much abundance and beauty surrounds us, at least on some level, it will be very difficult to live in the here and now. The stronger our feelings of gratitude are the more able we are to ‘Be Here Now’ with whatever it is we’re doing.
The more we practice gratitude the more we keep practicing, the stronger our practice gets, and the easier it becomes. But what does it mean to actually practice gratitude? How do we practice? There are many ways, of course, but as I can only speak from my own experience here are a couple of ideas that I personally do and find helpful: