Why I Walk for Suicide Prevention

Today, I’ll be participating in the Out of the Darkness walk for suicide awareness, prevention, and support hosted by the AFSP (American Foundation for Suicide Prevention), along with a small group of friends from my local sangha Be Here Now.

Today: I walk for my friend Sean. I walk for my friend Scott. I walk for my childhood friend Mitch. Three young men who died by suicide. I walk for all those who are struggling. I walk for those who cannot. And I will walk with love in my heart for all of them, knowing full well that we are all in this thing together.

I started getting involved in awareness and advocacy work around the topic of suicide the same way most of us get involved with anything: personal experience. Most of us don’t choose at random what topics to get more involved in, they choose us.

During the course of one summer a few years ago, I had three friends, all female and all part of our local sangha, spend time in the neurobehavioral unit here in town. Each were placed there by health care professionals, for varying lengths of time. After that, the topic of suicide started appearing more in people’s sharings during our sangha on Monday nights. The power of sharing circles at sangha never ceases to inspire me. When one person can open up and be vulnerable, it gives others permission to do the same. And once the door is open, it cannot be closed.

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Sticky Saloon

There are more people than seats or room in this bar, downtown on a Thursday night, and I wonder who chose this subpar venue for such an important event.

We’re sectioned off from the may-lay of intoxication, still, this bar floor squinting under florescent lighting has seen its share of misery – just like those whose feet grace its linoleum facade. Perhaps it’s this commonality that binds us to this location, verses some more comfortable, more spacious, less seedy place.

This Me Too reading is an ovary fest. Still, speaking to the choir has its merits. Empowering others out of the darkness of their shame to join the chorus of Enough! is perhaps the only way to burn this whole thing down.

Strange as it sounds, I feel rather like an intruder. Perhaps this is why there are not more men here. I have no voice of experience to lend to this particular chorus of women. But I put great stock in learning, knowing, and understanding the systemic issues that plague our collective consciousness, so here I am.

And so maybe this sticky saloon isn’t the worst place for this dialog to ensue. Maybe this hotbed of back alley lusting for something profoundly missing is right where we need to be. A place to match the darkness of this topic and meet it face-to-weathered-face.

As Harrison said in a poem: there is a place in us to weep for others. So maybe this is it.

Am I Sure?

wake up to

On Saturday, August 10th, a short article I wrote for the Community of Faith column ran in the Missoulian. Here it is, in its entirety:

In our Buddhist based practice, the Plum Village tradition led by Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh, we are encouraged to practice with the question: Am I sure? Let’s say, for example, that I am confronted with someone whose way of engaging with the world is quite contrary to my own and I think to myself: Gosh, that person is crazy. In times such as these, my practice is to ask myself: Am I sure? Am I sure that I know full well what that person is going through and where they are coming from? Am I sure that I know what’s fueling their behavior or approach to a particular situation? Am I sure this person is crazy? The answer, on all counts, is clear. Of course not! I often have little to no idea of the causes and conditions that are propelling someone else’s thoughts, speech, and/or actions. My reactionary judgments that arise, in any given situation, are not at all an accurate and full accounting of what’s actually taking place.

It’s so very easy for me to think I know something when in truth I really have no idea at all, especially when it comes to assessing someone else’s character or behavior. Using the Am I sure? question affords me the opportunity to create space in between what’s happening externally and the thoughts/speech/actions that I engage in as a result. It allows me to move from reacting to responding.

Recently, I attended a local outdoor concert where a homeless resident of Missoula came on the scene and proceeded to disrupt the event by yelling violently, both to herself and to the band that was playing. In response to her behavior, there was a critical and disrespectful approach taken with her. In short order, I realized that I was likely the only one on hand that saw the immensity of distress present in this homeless woman. Others seemed only to be focused on how inappropriate and rude she was being, in an otherwise peaceful gathering. Had the other event-goers at the time been reflecting on the Am I sure? question, perhaps it would’ve become clear that the homeless woman was likely suffering deeply from the results of untreated mental illness, versus intentionally trying to cause harm and upset of a personal nature.

Thich Nhat Hanh adds further that if when we ask our self the question Am I sure? the answer is: Yes! that we should ask the question again.

I have great affection for this wisdom teaching and I use this practice question often in my daily life. I have found that it helps to keep me angled in the direction of understanding, compassion, and kindness, which are three foundational tenets of human connection.

Nicole Dunn is an ordained member of the Order of Interbeing in the Plum Village tradition and serves as the director of the Open Way Mindfulness Center and the program director of the Be Here Now Sangha.

For original article in the Missoulian, click here.

Beginner’s Guidance

Last week at our local sangha, affectionately named Be Here Now (BHN), we offered a beginner’s guide to the practice, as part of our regular evening’s format.

Here’s what our format was and what we covered:

  • Start: 7:30pm
  • Introduction to sitting meditation, 5-10 min (Nicole)
  • Guided sitting meditation, 10 min (Amy)
  • Intro to walking meditation, 2-3 min (Amy)
  • Walking meditation, 10 min
  • History of BHN & Introduction to our practice tradition, 5 min (Nicole)
  • Secular vs. spiritual practice, 5 min (Nicole)
  • Introduce and explain the usage of the Five and the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings, 5-10 min (Linds)
  • Intro to sharing circle (Nicole)
  • Open sharing circle
  • Closing circle
  • End: 8:45pm

My prep notes:

Introduction to Sitting Meditation:

To listen to the audio file of this first portion of our evening, please click here.

Here in a few minutes, Amy is going to lead us in a guided seated meditation session and offer us some instruction during our sit tonight – but before we do that, I’d like to offer a little bit of instruction on posture for sitting meditation. Here at BHN we like to emphasize physical comfort when we sit and we like to encourage folks to simply sit in any way they feel works for them. And while that is still the case, I’d like to offer some additional guidance for those of us who may be looking to delve more into the development of a sitting meditation practice. If we resonate with the practice of sitting meditation and really want to enfold it into our daily/weekly routine, posture is an important component to address. When we sit in meditation, it’s encouraged that we sit upright and solid but not “at attention.” So we’re looking to find that balance where we can be both upright and relaxed; not stiff or rigid or locked in place. To sit upright, we want to have three points of contact. If we’re sitting on a cushion, that means our sit bones on the zafu (round cushion) and both knees on the zabutan (square mat) – and if our knees don’t touch the mat, then we want to support them with other small pillows or blankets, as we don’t want our knees to hover. If we’re sitting in a chair, that means our sit bones on the chair and both feet flat on the floor – and we want to have our backs not leaning against the chairback. So in both cases, we want to sit on the front 1/3 of our cushion or chair, if we’re physically able. And of course if you need back support then please use it. It’s also important to mention that our cushions and chairs are sans inferiority/superiority complex, so they happily reside together in the sangha. There is no better or less better seating apparatus when it comes to cushions and chairs, they are on the same sitting field. So please don’t get caught in the false view that sitting on a cushion will usher you someplace that a chair cannot.

Our eyes can be open or closed and our hands can be relaxed in our lap or on our knees. If our eyes are closed, we want to try to relax all the muscles around each eye and in our face. If our eyes are open, we can keep our gaze pointing downward, about 2-3 feet in front of us. We want to try to keep our shoulders relaxed and not scrunched up and tight.

Developing proper posture when sitting in meditation supports us in a couple of key ways. When we sit upright, with both solidity and relaxation, it allows our belly to have the space it needs to fully expand and contract, which is necessary in order for us to breathe deeply from our diaphragm. This sort of posturing also helps us to start training the mind to quiet and settle down. It’s much easier to still the body than it is to still the mind. And in order to start working on stilling the mind, we need to cultivate some discipline and support in our physical body. If our body is too loose and too relaxed, our mind will have a much harder time in becoming settled and concentrated. If our posture is lazy, our mind will be lazy too. So we start in our body, developing good posture for meditation, and over time – slowly slowly – our mental chatter will start to settle down.

When we first start sitting in meditation, it’s very common to feel as though our mental chatter actually picks up when we sit down on the cushion. But really what’s happening is that we are creating enough stillness to put on conscious display how active our minds really are. So it’s not that our minds are becoming more active necessarily, it’s simply a matter of noticing it in a way that we’re not used to.

Our root teacher Thich Nhat Hanh (often referred to as Thay, which means teacher in Vietnamese) says that we must learn the correct spirit of sitting. In an interview with what was formally called Shambhala Sun magazine, Thay offered that sitting should be pleasant and that we must learn how to sit without fighting (January 2012). So when we sit, we practice to simply sit and enjoy our sitting 100%. To be gentle and kind with our self in body and mind. If we sit in such a way where it feels like hard, taxing labor, Thay goes so far as to say that we are wasting our time in meditation. He said: the problem isn’t whether to sit or not to sit, but how to sit.

So how do we sit? What are we doing when we’re in meditation? Well, to start, what we are NOT doing is trying to wrestle our mental chattering into submission. And if we have the goal of sitting without the presence of any mental chatter – if we think having zero thoughts is a thing – we’re in trouble, because that’s impossible. We’re human and mental chattering is part of the deal. What we’re looking to do instead during sitting meditation is to redirect our focus and attention onto something else other than the spinnings of our thoughts. So our practice is simple but not at all easy: it’s to notice when our mind is trailing off into the past or future and to gently, with kindness, invite it to reconnect with the sensations of our breathing or the sensations of our body and sensory experience. And when it wanders off again, which it will, we practice to notice and return again. Notice and return, notice and return. This is the practice of sitting meditation. It’s a mental training ground. And it takes practice. It takes ongoing, diligent, continual practice. Our mind is a muscle and the practice of sitting meditation is rather akin to going to the gym to strengthen our physical muscles.

So, now we will segway into practicing all of this together as a sangha (which means spiritual community in Buddhism), and Amy will offer us some guidance along the way.

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Winter to Spring

As winter acquiesces to springtime in the mountains,

light peals back the darkness of morning

earlier and earlier,

and stays later and later

each day.

Like a dinner party invitee,

The Light is akin to that dude who

awkwardly and unexpectedly arrives

way ahead of the appointed time of the soiree.

And later,

after all the food is gone and the dishes are put away,

and the roar of the fire is down to its flickering embers,

The Light is that last lingering guest,

begging the host to question:

What the heck is this guy still doing here?

An Ushering Forward

December 2018

End of year letter of support & encouragement and an ushering in of 2019

offered by Nicole Dunn, BHN Founder & Program Director

 

The ticking of the clock is real, dear friends. The incessant chattering of time and the accompanying approach of growing older are a thing – a thing not to fear and run panic-stricken into the streets mind you, but a thing to keep closeful watch over, so as not to fritter our time away on trinkets of thought and harmful actions, in the interest of time being short and life being precious.

We are ripe with excuses to run, to hide, to distract our attention away from what is true and present and even good. We know what medicine we would do well to take yet we do not take it. We stand anchored in our own way, unable to move past our own barrier of self.

It is important to hold time in our peripheral vision; to know it is there like a friend reminding us to live and love well every chance we get. Still we mustn’t be beholden to it. We mustn’t listen to every tick, tick, ticking like a time bomb about to explode. We must allow it to inform our path forward without putting it in charge of dictating where we go. We must regard it as sunset or rise and greet it warmly with reverence, knowing we cannot hold onto it or make it last.

With a tender ushering, as though we were to sway a fragile bud to open, we can learn what it really means to Be Here Now, with all of the beauty and messiness that it entails.

We must learn and practice to live a non-fiction life – to let go of all that is not serving us well, largely: the notion that this moment should be some other moment. For our romantic partner to be some other partner – our job to be some other job – our bank account to be some other bank account – the landscape outside our window to be some other landscape – the weather (exterior or interior) to be some other weather – our hardship to be some other hardship.

As we embark upon the new year, let us stretch into our discomforts. Let us unfurl just a little bit, into those places we avoid like the plague. Let us dance wide in the joyful field of our heartspace, but not as though no one is watching. Dance wide as though everyone is dancing with you, because they are.

 

Breathing & Smiling,

Nicole Dunn

Chān Diêu Hoa,

True Wonderful Flower

On Sovereignty

The definition on dictionary.com for the word sovereignty is as follows:

  • the quality or state of being sovereign, or of having supreme power or authority.
  • the status, dominion, power, or authority of a sovereign; royal rank or position; royalty.
  • supreme and independent power or authority in government as possessed or claimed by a state or community.

However, in regards to sovereignty as it pertains to a quality we can develop and strengthen in our daily life, which can help to bolster our mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being, this textbook definition is not so helpful.

For my purposes, I would define it as: the state of relaxing with solidity and ease, into all the parts of who we are.

My husband Mike and I are slated to give a joint talk at our meditation group, Be Here Now, tomorrow night. The title and topic of our talk is: cultivating sovereignty. Aware that this word is not common in our collective vernacular (here in the U.S anyway), we will start off by sharing each of our own working definitions that we’ve come up with. His is as follows: freedom and liberation from being governed by unskillful habit energies.

Sovereignty involves being able to carry our true home with us everywhere we go. While we will of course still experience difficult situations and the full gamut of human emotions, when the quality of sovereignty is strong within us, we will be able to maintain our calm and clear center, without getting uprooted by the winds that blow around us.

Sovereignty is akin to a tree. A tree trunk is upright, solid, and grounded (solidity). Its branches, however, go with the flow and bend in the wind and its leaves change, shed, and regrow with the turning of seasons (ease).

After offering my working definition, I plan on giving a couple of personal examples (see below) of how this quality has shown up for me in the last few months, to hopefully help give some context and illustrate how sovereignty can be a beneficial quality to invest our time and energy into. I mean, it’s all fine and well to teach about cultivating certain qualities and states of being, but I think it’s important to also speak to the why as well. Whether I want to speak about cultivating mindfulness, joy, a sitting meditation practice, sovereignty, or any other number of things, it’s good to offer at least a brief reference as to the potential benefits that watering these seeds can have on our everyday lives.

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