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Tag Archives: Missoula

Warmth and Flicker

There’s a sigh of relief that only a campfire can foster;

a certain person we become – or rather return to – in the company of its flames;

and a unique opening of the heart that is only possible in its warmth and flicker.

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Having gone to bed a little earlier than usual last night, I woke naturally just after 4am this morning. It was 47 degrees outside, as I sat on the back porch, bundled up in a hoodie and blanket, sipping tea, and writing by lantern light. This is what I penned in my journal:

Quietude is more than the slowing down of surrounding sounds. It is an internal settling of our mental chatterings, too. Of course, each is affected by the other, but I reckon it is more realistic – and often more beneficial – to take charge of the latter.

To still the din around us is typically not a matter of choice. We can dampen it. We can ward it off for a bit. We can tuck into the woods and perhaps leave it behind for a while. But the clamor of living, sifting beings will be there to greet us upon our return.

There’s a quietude that can remain, however, amid even the noisiest of places. There are skillsets we can develop and hone, which will enable us to stay accompanied with a calm that is not easily tossed out to sea when a siren wales, or we find ourselves smack dab in the middle of a throng of people.

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Posted by on September 16, 2018 in writer's life

 

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Metta to the Drunk People

Last night, I attended a concert at an outdoor amphitheater, alongside a myriad of Missoulians clad in layers to weather the changing temperatures and armored with an ever-rising blood-alcohol level.

And it used to be I would sit in judgement, of those who drink enough to exhibit qualities of character that only other drunk people find appealing. But now I am able to bear witness to such inebriated behaviors and extend the following thoughts:

1. I hope you are accompanied by someone who can drive you safely home.
2. I hope one day you are able to dance and interact with such open abandon while sober.
3. Sweet Missoulian, I am glad to share this place called home with you. I wish you well.

 
 

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My Happy Place(s)

Lately, I’ve been reveling in the ability to thoroughly enjoy both staying at home and venturing out and about under the summer sun of Montana. In both instances, I am delighting in my own company. It’s a mark of inner contentment, I think, to feel at ease wherever we are. And I need not travel even one step to find where home is. I carry it within me. I am never without it.

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My Happy Place(s)

My happy place is on a motorcycle, cruising at 70 over a smooth ribbon of asphalt.
My happy place is on a SUP board, on any body of water that will have me.
My happy place is being perched in front of a blank sheet of paper, with a blue P-500 in my hand.

My HP is in the woods, surrounded by elder trees and ancient wisdom.
My HP is on my meditation cushion, cultivating ease and spaciousness.
My HP is in the kitchen, preparing food to feed my friends.
My HP is next to a campfire, with a cup of tea and a guitar.

My HP is being solo on the road, inhaling music through my pores and exhaling it through my lungs.
My HP is in the Mission Lookout Tower, intimately rekindling my love affair with the sun and moon.
My HP is behind a set of drums, allowing others the chance to get their African dance on.
My HP is my humble abode, in a town I adore, close to my people.

My HP is Deer Park Monastery.
My HP is Banff National Park.
My HP is anywhere I haven’t been.

My HP is in the here and now.

My HP is doing something silly.
My HP is playing with small children.
My HP is watching fireworks.

My HP is within me.

More HP pics:

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Soaking Wet & Still Smiling

Last night, my husband and I went to see Bon Iver at our local still newish outdoor amphitheater, located just outside of town in Bonner, Montana. It rained the whole…entire…time. Did I mention it was at an outdoor amphitheater? The last time I was that wet with my clothes on, I had volunteered at a mud run event and then chose to walk the course when my shift was over. I’d gotten moderately muddied up while traversing the course but my grand finale soaking-through came when swimming across a relatively deep muddy water pit at the end.

In comparing these two soaking-wet-with-clothes-on experiences, a notable distinction is that for one of them it was my choice and for the other it totally wasn’t. One was outside of my control. And that makes a HUGE difference, by the way. In terms of how we approach and energetically receive an experience, control has everything to do with it.

We arrived to the venue early. With grass seats and never having been to the amphitheater before, we wanted to stake out a good spot and do our best to ensure prime viewing. This meant, however, that we were soaked through well-before the concert was even set to start. In this semi-arid part of the country, it’s not often that we get a rain that lasts for hours on end without pause. But that’s sure what happened last night! The rain increased and decreased in heftiness and vigor, but it rained truly the whole time we were there. For three hours, we sat holed up in our Crazy Creek chairs atop small mats, raincoats, and blue tarp, slowly becoming more saturated as time went on. I read it was a sold out show. And with a capacity of 4,000, it meant we were in good company.

Since umbrellas weren’t allowed (as they would obstruct the view of those behind you), I enjoyed seeing what creative solutions people came up with to shield themselves from the wet weather. We were like a sea of huddled masses, ghosts, lagoon creatures, and woodland survivalists in our assortment of blankets, ponchos, rain gear, plastic sheeting, and cloaks. It was comforting, and somehow made the experience more tolerable, to feel the friendly camaraderie of being in it together, wrapped up in rain-shielding materials.

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The River Is High

The Clark Fork River is high, here in Missoula Montana. Swelling and spilling over its bank high. Flood stage high. Whole trees and mobile homes being carried downstream high.

Yesterday, I grabbed a shovel and some work gloves and headed to the staging area on 3rd Street to help fill sandbags. It was the same shovel I used to help during the in-town avalanche cleanup efforts here in town a few years ago. I know because it was still marked with duct tape – a way to distinguish it from the rest.

Dozens upon dozens of folks came out to take part in the volunteer efforts. Some volunteers even drove into town from over an hour away. I spent 5 1/2 hours at the sandbag station, with a 30-minute hiatus to fetch dinner for Mike & Jaden. I ate in the car on my way back to resume the second part of my shift, then left for the day just before 8:00pm.

While filling, moving, and stacking sandbags, I spoke with a woman who’d just returned from army training the previous day; I tag-teamed a few bags with a middle-school boy, who was apologetic every time he spilled some of the sand he was trying to get into the bag I was holding open for him, despite my friendly efforts to tell him it was par for the course in filling sandbags; I overheard an older woman tell a fellow shoveler that she was recently diagnosed with an extremely rare disease that will likely render her blind within the next 3-years; I joked around with a couple of guys as we all worked side-by-side atop the big mound of sand, as though we were victorious hikers who’d staked claim to a mountain peak; I enjoyed the synergy generated between myself and a young 20-something year-old trainer from the Bitterroot, as I passed down my filled bags to him, from my eventually lone and dwindling perch situated at the top of the heap; and my heart warmed at the short break we all took around 7:00pm to sing Happy Birthday to a 10-year-old girl, who insisted that she didn’t want to do anything to celebrate her birthday other than help fill sandbags.

Gosh I just love this town.

Today, my body is terribly sore. My hands are stiff and aching. And my ring-finger on my left hand is numb. It’s not ideal timing to be in such a painful physical state, as I’m in charge of our big community yard sale fundraiser at our local meditation center on Saturday, and I have a full day of sorting and prepping the sea of donations we’ve collected over the last 2 months tomorrow. AND, I’m quite sure that there’s no where else I would’ve rather been yesterday afternoon and evening.

My aches and pains will subside – and they’re a small price to pay in comparison to those who’s houses are being threatened or held in limbo by the rising river.

 
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Posted by on May 10, 2018 in Community

 

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Waiting is the Hardest Part

Last night, I participated in an interfaith concert event called Tangible Hope, which was put together by the Missoula Interfaith Collaborative (MIC). Every year we have an interfaith summit event, but this was the first year is was turned into a concert at the Wilma Theater.

It was a wonderfully diverse concert, starting with bagpipes and ending with a Christian rock band, with a hand bell ensemble, community choir, and local singer/songwriter sandwiched in between. Included in the mix were also a couple of speakers and two storytellers, which is where I came in.

After weeks of preparation and a workshop session with our local storytelling pro Marc Moss, who runs Tell Us Something here in Missoula, here’s what I came up with along the topic theme of Tangible Hope:

In the fall of 2002, when I was 23 years old, I started a weekly meditation group called Be Here Now, based in the Buddhist tradition of Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh. And for the first 8-years, I was the sole facilitator of the group. Flash-forward to present day, we are now over 15 years old and have grown from a small meditation group into an active, vibrant, and relatively large sangha. And in Buddhism, the word sangha means: spiritual community. In our tradition, sangha is one of the most important and highly emphasized components that we are called to develop and strengthen in our daily lives. Sangha is an action verb; and it’s a quality of heartfulness that propels us in the direction of cultivating brotherhood and sisterhood. And for me, when I practice to fully embody the spirit of sangha, I’m also able to encounter it wherever I go.

As an example: I remember a time a few years ago when I was standing in a long security line at the LAX airport. I had just spent 4-weeks on a retreat at Deer Park monastery, which is based in our tradition located in southern CA, so I went from this beautiful, sequestered and quiet environment to a place that was decidedly quite different: LAX. And as I was standing in that security line a wonderful insight arose, which was that I didn’t feel as though I had left a lovely setting with my extended sangha friends and was now tossed into a hectic and unpleasant environment filled with grumpy strangers; I felt as though I had simply transitioned from one sangha to another – from my monastery sangha to my air traveling sangha. This insight allowed me to interact with the space and the people around me in a different way – a way that was more open, friendly, caring, and kind. So, when I look and operate through the lens of sangha I experience it wherever I go, all around me because I carry it with me and I actively create it.

Our teacher Thich Nhat Hanh says that sangha is more than a community, it’s a deep spiritual practice. So, it involves relationship building, spending time together, learning how to communicate and negotiate with various personalities and ways of doing things – it involves interacting with everyone around us in a way that promotes love and connection. And oftentimes the work of sangha building, of community and relationship building, is not easy. I’m reminded of our very first Be Here Now council meeting, which took place in November of 2010. There were 7 of us in attendance and it was the first time we were delving into the group becoming more of a collective endeavor, vs. just me holding down the fort. People shared a wealth of feedback and input mostly centered around all the changes they wanted to see have made; things we weren’t doing that we should be doing, things we were doing that we shouldn’t be doing, format adjustments, and so on. And what I recall most about this first meeting is getting home afterwards and breaking down crying. I was so overwhelmed, wondering how we would be able to incorporate everyone’s ideas and changes they wanted to see made and I was filled with worry that the simplicity and loveliness of our group was going to be lost. So, while it took some time to adjust and find our way together as a council and we had some growing pains, it was also the most beneficial thing we could’ve done to help ensure the health and vibrancy and stability of our group. So while it’s often challenging to do this work of sangha building, it’s also incredibly important that we do it.

And I’m so very grateful to be part of a tradition that ushers us in this direction and that we have the great fortune to be partners with the MIC in this regard, so that we can extend our capacity for sangha building outwards to include our interfaith sangha, which then ripples out to include our citywide Missoula sangha, our statewide Montana sangha, our nationwide American sangha, and our global worldwide sangha. Because the good news is: we’re all in this together, truly, there is no separation. And for this reality – and the opportunity that we have to be part of this interfaith collaborative – I am filled with joy and appreciation, because it’s this work that will allow us to continue beautifully into the future.

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Interfaith Work & Sangha Building

I’m currently reaching maximum saturation levels in terms of my usage of time spent on writing projects, events planning, managing meetings and gatherings, and attending a variety of other functions. I’m in the boat right now of practicing to say no when it comes to the question as to whether or not to take something else on – AND it’s going well, too, I might add.

Factoring into all the many lovely things I’ve chosen to do with my time is to: tell a story on stage at the Wilma Theater here in town on May 5th, as part of an interfaith concert and celebration event called Tangible Hope, submit an article to be considered for publication in the Mindfulness Bell for their sangha building issue (slated to come out in the fall), and write a short piece for the Community of Faith section in our local newspaper (for their May 12th edition).

Is interfaith work and sangha building different? Ultimately, no, I think not. When I look and engage through the lens of sangha building, I see clearly that sangha exists wherever I go. It’s all around me. Whether in the setting of my home sangha of Be Here Now or my larger Plum Village family, or my growing relationships and partnerships with local pastors and interfaith members as part of the Missoula Interfaith Collaborative (MIC), which I serve to represent our communities of Be Here Now and Open Way with, sangha is an action verb; it’s a quality of heartfulness that propels me in the direction of cultivating brotherhood and sisterhood.

From the story I plan on telling as part of the Tangible Hope concert event:

I remember a time a few years ago when I was standing in a long security line at the LAX airport – I had just spent a month on a retreat at a monastery in our tradition in southern CA, so I went from this beautiful, sequestered and quiet environment to a place that was decidedly quite different. As I was standing in the security line, I had the wonderful insight that I didn’t feel as though I had left a lovely setting with my extended sangha and was now tossed into a hectic and unpleasant environment with grumpy strangers; I had simply transitioned from one sangha to another: from my monastery sangha into my air traveling sangha! This insight allowed me to interact with the space and the people around me in a different way – a way that was more open, friendly, caring, and kind. So, when I look and operate through the lens of sangha I experience it wherever I go, all around me – I carry it with me and I actively create it.

If we are truly invested in building sangha – aka spiritual community – then we must practice to envelop it fully into our lives and not relegate it to just our own beloved circles consisting of those whom we share most closely and are most comfortable with. The true spirit of sangha building must be all inclusive; this is the only way we can serve as agents of change in the world and continue beautifully into the future.

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