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In Mourning

In loving memory of Alison Matthews, who passed away on July 3rd, 2017

and her husband David, who passed away last night on August 6th, 2017

 

A string of sangha friends have died in only one-month’s time – a period of mourning is at hand.

Breathing in, I see myself as a rain cloud.
Breathing out, I allow myself to grieve this sacred sorrow.

What am I to understand from all of this loss? 3 friends in the last month, gone. 2 friends this time last year, gone.

This life is extinguishable, yes.
Those I love will continue to die, yes.
Right now there is pain and heartache, yes.
At some point, this pain will pass, yes.
This life is precious, yes.
This day today is a gift, yes, most assuredly.

 

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Here’s an excerpt from a speech David gave last year:

“I have a very strong connection to Martin Luther King, Jr. He was the speaker at my commencement in 1965 at Oberlin College. I lived through that troubled time of the ‘60’s, and through all the years since, with Martin Luther King as a powerful guide…

This individual man who was called by God, opened himself fully to universal mind. Two months before his assassination in April of 1968, in a Sunday sermon, he spoke out the summary of his life, and what he knew to be important. It is the antithesis of despair, and the call to each of us to make a useful life.

He said:
Once in awhile I think about my own death and my own funeral, not in a morbid way, but I ask, “what would I want someone to say?” If any of you are here when it is my time to meet my end, don’t make it a long funeral. And if someone gives the eulogy, ask them not to make it too long. Ask them not to mention the Nobel Peace Prize – that’s not important. Ask them not to mention all the other awards, or where I went to school. Those things are not important. On that day I would like someone to mention that Martin Luther King, Jr. tried to give his life in the service of others. On that day I’d like someone to say I tried to love somebody, say that I tried to feed the hungry, and clothe the naked. I want someone to say Martin Luther King, Jr. was a drum major, a drum major for justice, a drum major for peace; say that I tried to be a drum major for righteousness. And all those other shallow things won’t matter. I won’t have anything to leave behind- no money, none of the fine things of life. But all I want to leave behind is a committed life. And that’s all I want someone to say.”

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Posted by on August 7, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

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Time

Last week I turned 38 years old. On the eve of my birthday, a sangha friend passed away. Alison Matthews, age 63.

63 is an age generally considered to be on the younger side of someone passing away. 63 is not old age. I am continually reminded about the preciousness of life, especially in the wake of others who have passed on. Earlier today, I was visiting with a hospice patient. During our weekly visits, I’ve taken to bringing a newspaper with me and reading aloud the news. As I was reading the Today In History section I came across this: In 1937, American composer and pianist George Gershwin died at a Los Angeles hospital of a brain tumor; he was 38.

One never knows when our time will expire. So often, we live as though we have a limitless supply of time. In reading world news and local obituaries, however, I routinely come across people who’ve died at all ages and stages in their life. For me, this serves as an important reminder: there’s no guarantee that we will see old age. And that applies to myself, as well as my beloved family and friends.

Being in touch with death and dying keeps me in close contact with my gratitude for life. Volunteering with hospice affords me the opportunity to train in the art of living life well, with however much time I have. And I am deeply touched and nourished by all of the patients I have the honor and privilege to meet with, who serve as my teachers in this regard.

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Posted by on July 11, 2017 in Everyday Practice

 

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Montana Open Way Sanghas Spring Family Retreat

Our 2017 Montana spring family retreat, in the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh, in pictures:

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Self-Care

7pointplan

To read in more detail about Ethan’s 7-Point Plan: http://www.ethannichtern.com/7-point-practice-plan-for-engaged-mindfulness-in-2017/

Yesterday was a long day of LOTS of sitting on a meditation cushion at our local mindfulness center, with very little active movement, which my physical body is not a huge fan of. And it was also lovely, too, as not only was I able to partake in an OI Day of Mindfulness (OI: Order of Interbeing), but it meant I was able to see our out of town sangha friends, of whom I only gather with 3-4 times a year.

Our Day of Mindfulness included: sitting meditation, indoor walking meditation, reciting the 14 Mindfulness Trainings, listening to short talks from three of our Montana and Wyoming area OI members, silent lunch, a dharma/personal check-in round, and closing remarks from our local Dharma teacher Rowan. It went from 9:30am-5:00pm. My husband and I left at 5:00pm, in order to return home to our son, while others stayed to have dinner together at the center. My nerve condition, and associating chronic pain, had been so aggravated by the hours spent mostly sitting that I darted out to our car quite rapidly after the final sound of the bell – whoosh, I was gone! What I’ve been appreciating reflecting on, since getting home last night, is how strong my practice of self-care is – which took me years of honing in, I might add, and is a continual practice. Now, when my pain levels rise and my mental energy plummets in unison, I know what I need to do and I do it.

A big part of my self-care routine is in understanding how physical pain, just like everything else, is of the nature to change. When my pain level rises, I practice to remember that by prioritizing rest, using a few simple aids (such as using a heating blanket and soaking my legs in a hot bath), and being attentive to my body mechanics, my pain will subside to a large degree, after a certain length of time. I no longer fight against the pain or my body, wishing they were other then they are. I’ve learned a different way of engaging with myself when pain arises, and it makes such an immense difference in my experience.

As Thay says: “The Buddha said that you shouldn’t amplify your pain by exaggerating the situation. He used the image of someone who has just been hit by an arrow. A few minutes later, a second arrow strikes him in exactly the same spot. When the second arrow hits, the pain is not just doubled; it is many times more painful and intense.

So when you experience pain, whether is physical or mental, you have to recognize  it just as it is and not exaggerate it. You can say to yourself, “Breathing in, I know this is only a minor physical pain. I can very well make friends and peace with it. I can still smile to it.”

If you recognize the pain as it is and don’t exaggerate it, then you can make peace with it, and you won’t suffer as much. But if you get angry and revolt against it, if you worry too much and imagine that you’re going to die very quickly, then the pain will be multiplied one hundred times. That is the second arrow, the extra suffering that comes from exaggeration. You should not allow it to arise. This is very important. It was recommended by the Buddha: Don’t exaggerate and amplify the pain.”

– From Shambhala Sun magazine (now known as Lion’s Roar), January 2012

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Fall Retreat, in Pictures

Our Montana Open Way Sanghas fall retreat just occurred over this past weekend. We were honored and delighted to have Sister Brightness and Sister Friendliness join us from Deer Park Monastery to lead our retreat. We had a lovely time practicing together as a harmonious sangha beside the beautiful Flathead Lake!

 

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Posted by on October 4, 2016 in Local Retreats

 

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14 Years and Counting!

14-years

(Stage direction: cue the slow opening of the curtains to a stage shrouded in darkness)

After a dramatic pause, a deep strong voice (not unlike James Earl Jones) says, from beyond the darkness:

14 years ago. (insert another dramatic pause) A community was born.

(Cue loud pounding drum noise)

The voice comes in again:

They called it: BE…HERE….NOW

(Cue the sounds of more loud pounding drums)

(Stage direction: bright lights are turned on, sudden and fast, revealing a stage crammed full of people on every possible inch of the stage – and the clincher: they’re stacked into a gigantic human pyramid)

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Posted by on September 29, 2016 in Be Here Now Sangha

 

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OI Mentorship

copy-interbeing-bw-exact-smallerAn OI member is someone who’s been ordained by Thich Nhat Hanh, or other monastic Brother or Sister in our community, into the Order of Interbeing. To borrow directly from the orderofinterbeing.org website:

The Order of Interbeing, Tiep Hien in Vietnamese, is a community of monastics and lay people who have committed to living their lives in accord with the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings, a distillation of the Bodhisattva (Enlightened Being) teachings of Mahayana Buddhism. Established by Venerable Thich Nhat Hanh in Saigon in 1966, the Order of Interbeing was founded in the Linji tradition of Buddhist meditative practice and emphasizes the Four Spirits: non-attachment from views, direct experimentation on the nature of interdependent origination through meditation, appropriateness, and skilful means.

The first six members of the order, ordained together on February 5, 1966, were colleague and students of Thich Nhat Hanh who worked with him relieving the suffering of war through projects organized by the School of Youth for Social Service. In joining the Order of Interbeing, they dedicated themselves to the continuous practice of mindfulness, ethical behavior, and compassionate action in society.

Yesterday, I put together my first OI mentorship meeting with three of our sangha members (plus my husband) who are considering whether or not they either want to become an official aspirant (which we often refer to as pre-aspirants) or want to proceed to fully ordaining and becoming an OI member. An official OI aspirant is someone who has formally received the Five Mindfulness Trainings in our tradition, and has practiced with them for at least one year thereafter, and acquired the necessary components for OI aspirancy to begin, namely: specific paperwork, writing a letter to Thay, getting approval from a Dharma teacher, and finding a mentor (usually another OI member).

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