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Tag Archives: Montana

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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On Comfort Zones, Waiting in Line, and Home Touristing

The Missoula chapter of Tenacious Dames (Montana’s only all female motorcycle club)

So, there’s a good chance that this blog post will only track well from my own vantage point, given the last few days I’ve had. Translation: I’m fixin on covering a few topics that might not string together in a neat and orderly fashion from an outsider’s perspective :)

On Thursday, I decided to try something new and step outside of my comfort zone. I joined the Tenacious Dames (TD) – Missoula’s chapter of Montana’s only all female motorcycle club – for their monthly ride. I just recently found out about them from a woman rider I met at a car show in Phillipsburg, a couple of weeks ago. I looked them up on Facebook and reached out. Jeanette, the Dame of Affairs – seen up close in the pic above – got back to me and warmly invited me to join them for their August ride. So I did!

Normally, I’m a solo rider. And now that I have a bigger highway-worthy bike, I’ve been getting out quite a bit. I’ve had my new bike for about a month now and I’ve put over 1,200 miles on it already. I decided to join the TD partly because it was outside of my comfort zone. I’m someone who intentionally seeks out things to do from time to time which allow me the opportunity to expand my perspective and bubble of familiarity. And it’s also good to mingle and mix with folks I wouldn’t otherwise get the chance to know.

Not only do I usually ride solo but I also have an irrational aversion to joining groups which are designed for women only. So saddling up with the TD was a double whammy, in the stepping outside of my comfort zone department. The TD were super welcoming. And I really enjoyed the pack ride experience and meeting other women that were as much into riding as I am. I’ve done only one other group ride before, just a few weeks ago with my husband and stepdad in Glacier National Park. I’m realizing that pack riding blends something together that I really enjoy but don’t often get the chance to engage in, which is to share space and energy with others amid a certain level of quietude and personal spaciousness. For instance, I love meditating and sharing silent retreats with others. It gives me the best of both worlds: being with others and also being with myself. In short: I like being amid others without the added activity of conversating. So pack rides are great! I’m able to share energy with others on a different, more personal level.

The TD were great, and I’m sure I’ll join them for another ride soon.

Lesson I continue to learn: Stepping outside of my comfort zone is the only way I grow and become more resilient and dynamic.

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Yesterday morning I found myself – for the second time in the past month and a half – waiting in line at the Motor Vehicle Department (MVD) at the courthouse. The first time was to transfer the title into my name for my new/used Subaru. This time it was to do the same action for my new/used motorcycle. Having been to the MVD a little over a month ago, I knew to expect a long wait. I arrived about 40-minutes prior to the office opening at 8am and I was the 11th person in line. The dude behind me came supplied with a folding camp chair. People are getting hip to this waiting line epidemic here in town at the ol’ MVD. All in all, I spent a little over an hour and a half at the MVD.

As someone who is intrigued by observing human behavior – my own and that of others – waiting areas offer unique and ripe opportunities. We can learn a lot about ourselves in moments of waiting, such as: what our patience level is, how kind we are to others when our system is taxed, how we occupy our time and minds, what our quality of heartfulness and connection is to those around us.

There was an array of line conversations I overheard and a menagerie of reactions and responses to the whole waiting game that I witnessed, ranging from light-hearted to angry-ridden. Some knew what to expect and seemed to have a certain level of acceptance (and humor) about the situation, while others were clearly not anticipating the MVD to be such a hot spot at 8 in the morning and were quite affronted.

How well-balanced we stay amid such conditions as waiting in line, speaks directly to how we show up in all sorts of places in our life. If we regard waiting in line to be separate from life, as something we’re not “supposed” to encounter, then we’re setting ourselves up for pockets of misery and discomfort whenever we find ourselves waiting for something, which is to say: a lot of the time. The more I can infuse my mindfulness practice into all the things that I do, the more ease I experience as a result, and the more open and expansive my life becomes – whether it’s when I’m doing something I enjoy or something I’d assume avoid.

Lesson I continue to learn: There is no such thing as an insignificant moment. I am always practicing something.

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Posted by on August 11, 2018 in Everyday Practice, Fun, Travel

 

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Squirrel Meditation

Our campsite on the Flathead Lake

This past weekend (Aug 2-5) we had our sangha summer campout with our meditation community Be Here Now – it was our 6th annual! We’ve been using the same campground each summer: Big Arm State Park on the Flathead Lake in northwestern Montana. For the past 3 years, we’ve been managing to reserve their one and only group site, which wonderfully allows us to be all together in one spot AND right on the water! So great!!

Each campout is a nice social/community building/relaxing hang-time on the lake opportunity for our sangha. It allows us to be joyfuly together, whilst revelling in the lake, each others company, and the practice of having nowhere to go and nothing to do. We spend our time: reading, floating/paddling/swimming, conversing, laughing, playing games, drinking tea/coffee, sharing community meals, napping, and hanging out around the fire at night. Given that we had a smaller group than usual, and Saturday afternoon was a bit blustery, we even took a field trip this year during our campout: cherry picking!

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Journal Entries from Lake Como (Montana style)

I got back yesterday from an overnight excursion to Lake Como – the Montana version, not the one in Italy. Here are some of the (unedited) journal musings I penned while out on the water and camping in the woods.

Friday July 13th

Not yet 8pm. Shadows grow in the forest, as the sun wanes and the sky fades to pale blue, like an after-thought. Cowboy Junkies on the portable speaker prove the perfect accompaniment to my cup of tea and the creek beside me, small but surging mightily, just like me.

A bluebird day on the lake coats my skin and sits tangled in my long hair. And I’m the sort of tired that I remember from my youth, after a day spent sunbathing, running from ocean waves, and flirting with bronze-glazed boys thick with intrigue. A delicious tired, sugared with a communion with something bigger.

There’s a certain aliveness, in this flavor of winding down, following a day that leaves your face awash in the reds of summer. And I reckon I’ll sleep good tonight, rocked in lullaby arms by the song of the water making its way over rocks downstream.

_______

I breathe just a little bit deeper in the woods, befriended by my rooted brethren.

I breathe deeper when gazing at mountain peaks, as a witness to stellar beauty.

And I breathe deeper whenever I look up – at trees or buildings or sky – as it helps me to remind me that I am part of a whole big and wide open world.

_______

9:18pm

I feel asleep with my friend Ashly’s book manuscript on my stomach and just awoke. The forest is darkening to muted greens and flat tones of ash. I smell of insect repellent and sunscreen and solitude, a mixture I take solace in more than words can properly convey. Still finding my way venturing on solo overnights in the woods, an inner stirring of uneasiness arises, when I think of how the babbling creek would drown out the approach of ne’er-do-wells I try not to imagine are thrumming through the night on back roads, looking for a fresh target to mess with. (Added side note: For the record, ne’er-do-well is a word that I like the sound of far more than the dictionary definition of, as it means a worthless person, which I don’t at all subscribe to as being a possibility. I think of this word as referring to a person who is up to no good.)

In my evening cat nap, I think I may have dreamed in color, rich in the dalliances of friendships past and those I hope soon will come. Though, it’s hard to say for sure. Dreams are tricky that way. Sometimes they scoop me up and swallow me whole, rendering me awash in memory’s twilight. Other times, I become a false impression in their wake, stumbling around within myself for hope of grounding in a truth I can bite into and chew.

______

My mind kicks up storm clouds, like the haze left behind on a dirt road in the heat of summer. And sometimes, despite my best efforts to redirect my focus, it is undeterred from its obsessions of thought.

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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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New Plan!

If you’re an avid reader here, you may recall that one of my oft used life mottoes is: New plan! And the exclamation point is an important part of the motto, as it stipulates a certain energy that must get summoned alongside of the words, so that the spirit of the motto has the opportunity to arise. Just saying the words without evoking the spirit will sorely impact the motto’s efficacy rate.

Let’s say you’re waiting for a flight at the airport. While standing at the gate, an announcement is made that your flight has been delayed. You now have at least 2 options. You could grumble about it to your travel companion, or text someone or post your angst on social media if you’re flying solo. OR you could New plan! it. You could say New plan! and flow with the moment, determining what to do with the extra hang time you now have on your hands. New plan! is like a gear shifter, helping us to practice moving along with the moment as the landscape around us changes, verses getting stuck-tied to how something was “supposed” to be. I’ve found that it helps to say it out loud, too.

Yesterday, this motto accompanied me in especially strong accord. My original plan was to take my standup paddleboard, new camping hammock, and new/used Subaru and solo car camp overnight on the Clearwater river, about a 40-minute jaunt from town. I’d paddle around in the heat of day, swing in the hammock in between water excursions, write, drink tea, and maybe manage to write a letter to my friend Daniel. That was the plan. And I did do most of those things. I found a spot where I intended; paddled around on a lazy stretch of the Clearwater River; took a cat nap in the hammock; and even made some tea and did a bit of writing.

The place I was situated is a rare find in Montana. It’s a spot on the water that’s free and open for folks to camp just about anywhere they can nestle in. Now, there’s a ton of free camping in this lovely state, with all of the national forest land we have. You can drive up almost any ol’ dirt road and kick it for up to 14-days. But to camp for free on the water is a hard find. And the thing with paid camping on the water in the summertime of Montana, is that you either need to reserve your spot 9-months in advance or you need to time it right, in order to secure one of the first-come-first-serve spots. Cuz, guess who else wants to camp right on the water? EVERYONE.

The hitch in the giddy-up came about 2-hours in, after I had settled into my camp spot. There were other campers spread out along the stretch of river I was on but we were all giving each other the customary buffer of personal space. I had staked claim to a great little spot, where I could only just barely see the next campers down the way. I was enjoying a cup of freshly made tea when a group of about 6 adults came to hop in the water right by where I was stationed. They were camping somewhere nearby and my only guess was that I had secured one of the few good river access spots in the area. I mean, just because there’s a river doesn’t mean every spot along it lends itself well for hopping on in. I’m not sure why else they would’ve traveled down to where I was, as we were all camping beside the water.

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Creating Balance

I gave a talk at the Open Sky Sangha in Kalispell, Montana last night, Thursday June 14th. (Open Sky is one of the sister groups of my home sangha Be Here Now.) Below is what I wrote out ahead of time, to help me prepare for the talk. If you’d prefer to listen to the audio recording, vs. reading it, you can venture here:

http://www.openway.org/content/creating-balance-practice-talk-nicole-dunn

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Title: Creating Balance

Subtitle: Cultivating self-care while also staying active and engaged in the world

Last month, for the week leading up to and including Memorial Day weekend, I went on a solo sojourn and stayed in the Mission Lookout Tower, which is just outside of Swan Lake. So, for 5 nights and 6 days, I situated myself 40-feet up off the ground in a 15X15 glass nest perch in the pines, with a 2-3 foot wide wrap-around deck, which afforded me sweeping views of the Swan Range to the east and the Mission mountains to the west.

I reserved this recent solo stay at Mission Lookout back in November, because I knew that come mid-late May, I’d be in need of some time of restoration and refueling of my energy tanks – and boy was I right! Prior to heading to the tower, my energy was sorely waning and I was feeling over-extended and organizationally meetinged-out. I recorded my debut spoken word album and had a release party and performance in March; I was one of the directors of our statewide spring retreat in April; and was in charge of our big annual community yard sale fundraiser at our mindfulness center in Missoula two weeks after the retreat – on top of working part time as a nanny, being a weekly hospice volunteer, taking care of my family household, having a regular writing regiment, and so on. And this isn’t anything special or unique – we all have a myriad of things that we tend to on an ongoing basis.

No matter how glad we may be to invest our energy into all the different things that we do, there comes a time that in order to continue doing those things, we will need to find, create, and make important the art of resting and self-care, lest we become completely and utterly exhausted and kaput. So, developing a relationship with cultivating our own sense of balance between being active in the world and learning how to rest and replenish is not just something nice to do, it’s vitally important to our ability to continue beautifully into the future – to keep actively practicing in our spiritual mindfulness tradition and in all of the endeavors we participate in: work, school, family life, social life, home upkeep, traveling, volunteering, recreation, hobbies/interests, etc. We extend ourselves out and about in so many ways and we can liken ourselves to a car: our gas tank can only take us so far before we need to refuel. If we have more energy going out than that which is coming in, we will find ourselves eventually broken down and stranded on the side of the road. And this is a position that is all too commonplace in our culture. We are a nation of doers. And there’s nothing wrong with that!

The hitch in the giddy-up is that we are not well-acquainted with how to ongoingly restore ourselves. We don’t prioritize – alongside of: work, family, friends, and so on – the practices of stopping, resting, nourishing, and healing.

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